The Cubs’ depth at third base is going to be much improved next season as they’ll have a solid player manning the hot corner for nearly every affiliate. That’s a far cry from where things stood last year, when it was Chris Morel at the top of the list and then everyone else. But Morel only played 19 games at third base and now appears to be ticketed for the outfield on a more permanent basis.
That means Chase Strumpf takes over as the top third base prospect in the system. After getting over a hand injury to start the year, Strumpf destroyed High-A pitching and earned a promotion to Tennessee in June. His struggles at the new level stretched into the middle of July, but then he began to figure things out and he went on a tear for six weeks before COVID shortened his season.
He hit .275 with a .383 OBP and a wRC+ of 141 during that hot stretch to bring his line up to .211/.335/.380 in 254 Double-A plate appearances. He also ended up hitting seven homers at Tennessee after not leaving the yard in 67 plate appearances with South Bend.
Where the Cubs choose to assign him following spring training will set the tone for a lot of other players across the system, many of whom are unproven against advanced competition. That creates a lot of uncertainty at the position, but third base as a whole is deeper than it has been in recent years and could get a lot deeper if a few guys hold their own.
Let’s take a look at the happenings for each affiliate.
It’s still a little unclear who all is going to be playing third and how much. Levi Jordan was taking most of the reps in Iowa to finish the 2021 season and he will probably be there again to start next season. We could also see Edwin Figuera getting some time there. The big question is where Strumpf will start out. Assigning him to Iowa would move Jordan across the diamond to second base and relegate Figuera to more of a bench role.
Chase Strumpf with a two run jack pic.twitter.com/mctGZggmio
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) August 6, 2021
The Strumpf situation bleeds over to Double-A as he is going to be the starter wherever he goes. The Cubs might want to see him back with the Smokies to make up for some of the time he lost late in the season and to ensure he can repeat the big numbers he put up before going on the shelf. If he’s not in Kodak to start the year, Jake Slaughter will fill in as best he can.
This is the toughest affiliate to project right now because there are so many players who can handle third, along with other infield positions. It might be Kevin Made when he is not at shortstop, or it could be Luis Verdugo. Fabian Pertuz is also in play here. It really depends upon what happens this spring and how the Cubs use those three players in concert with Ed Howard.
Some of it may come down to physical development and which of these youngsters grows into the corner. Verdugo and Pertuz only recently turned 21, Howard will be 20 in January, and Made turned 19 in September, so all of them have at least a little physical projection left.
We could see some outstanding young players here this year, with Reggie Preciado probably getting most of the playing time at third. According to photographer Rich Beisterfeld, who captured a lot of action from the Arizona Complex League, Preciado looks more comfortable playing third than short.
We could also see 2021 15th round draft pick BJ Murray get some reps. Murray was great in Mesa in September, hitting over .300 with a wRC+ of 135 and finishing the ACL season batting .286 with an .826 OPS. It is interesting that both Murray and Preciado are switch-hitters and will likely be on the same team at the same position.
— John Antonoff (@baseballinfocus) August 21, 2021
The Cubs have two versatile players who could see time here in rookie ball. Frank Hernandez played mostly in the outfield in the Dominican Summer League until later in the year and Brayan Altuve played all over the place in the DSL after moving from behind the plate. Both have a lot of athleticism and hitting potential.
Clubs typically sign an abundance of players up the middle, particularly shortstops and catchers, and then figure out where they’re best suited. I’m wondering how much Adan Sanchez, one of the Cubs’ top free agent signings for January 15, will play at third base and how much he will be at catcher. That should be an interesting follow.
So the keys to third base for 2022 are Strumpf starts, how much time Preciado gets there, and who the Cubs end up using at South Bend. Things are looking up for this position, and this is all with Chris Morel moving to the outfield.