Shortstop was the top position in the Cubs system a year ago, but things can change quickly in the minors. The Cubs went out and acquired several outfielders at the deadline and two of their first three picks in the draft were left-handed starting pitchers. Those acquisitions, along with prospects making leaps in their performances in actual games, pushed what is still an excellent collection of shortstops down in the rankings.
Cristian Hernandez had a good first season, Ed Howard struggled for two-thirds of the year before figuring some things out, Kevin Made sparkled in the field and showed promise at the plate. Luis Vazquez, when healthy, showed a massive jump in his performance at the plate while Andy Weber had his worst regular season as a pro before righting things in the Arizona Fall League.
It certainly wasn’t a disastrous season by even the most stringent standards, it just wasn’t the type of collective performance you’d like to see from a premium position. That said, we’re talking about a lot of young players, many of whom had to spend what should have been their first professional season working out on their own.
Let’s take a look at who’s going to anchor the position at each level and see how things could end up changing yet again.
Weber is coming off an impressive run in the AFL after missing around three-fourths of the 2021 season with minor injuries. The 2018 fifth-round pick out of Virginia looks to be making adjustments as he moves up the system and his torrid fall performance set him up to open next season at Triple-A. He played a lot of second base in Mesa, perhaps in preparation for a role as a utility guy in Chicago. That could happen at any point next year.
— Prospects Worldwide (@ProspectsWorldW) November 5, 2021
Luis Vazquez began the year on fire at the plate in South Bend before sliding awkwardly into second base missing three months. He returned late in the year and picked up where he left off to earn a quick promotion to Double-A. Vazquez got the nod to head to Arizona with Weber and missed half of the AFL with a minor injury, but played very well the last two weeks.
Easily the best defender at the position, Vazquez has played in only 228 games over four seasons and still needs game experience against advanced competition. He’ll be 22 next year and I don’t see anybody taking a spot from him at short.
The Cubs don’t necessarily have to make a decision on shortstops Made or Howard for a long time because both should begin 2022 at South Bend and can split time between two positions. Made plays a little third base while Howard will get some time at second.
Exactly how they split their time at short is something to watch for and may not be an easy decision for the organization. This is a good problem to have; bad teams don’t have these kinds of issues.
Cubs Kevin Made has a ton, and I mean a ton, of upside. He’s only 18, playing in Low-A. From what I’ve seen the ABs are starting to look better. Reached out and poked this one for an RBI single in today’s game. pic.twitter.com/XREMGmbHMh
— Trevor Hooth (@HoothTrevor) July 18, 2021
It’s still unclear which prospect is going to be the main shortstop for the Pelicans in 2022. More than likely, James Triantos and Reggie Preciado will be playing second base and third base, respectively. They might get some time in at short, but the superior defensive skills of those above them in the system will probably win out. Yeison Santana might still be in the mix here as well. Overcoming his struggles at the plate from his time at the Beach last season would allow Triantos and Preciado to play elsewhere.
There’s also the possibility that this position serves as a revolving door that can be left open for Hernandez at some point in the year. One of the biggest questions for 2022 is exactly what the Cubs have planned for Hernandez. They could be very aggressive and send him to play under manager Buddy Bailey, a tall task for an 18-year-old kid who would basically be skipping two levels to play Low-A ball.
Depending upon how much Hernandez has developed this winter, it’s not out of the question. It would be pretty exciting as the Cubs would have to be extremely confident that Hernandez could handle the physical and mental pressures that come with such a posting.
Cristian Hernandez dinger #2 ginormous pic.twitter.com/GODmlL1slQ
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) June 29, 2021
Where Hernandez is assigned will affect who else plays at shortstop in Arizona this summer. If Hernandez goes to Myrtle Beach, Pedro Ramirez is the odds-on favorite to get the gig. The switch-hitter tore it up last summer in the DSL at age 17, hitting 378 with a 155 wRC+ that was the highest in the system at the position.
On January 15, the Cubs are slated to sign shortstops Alexis Hernandez — younger brother of Cristian — and Jefferson Rojas as international free agents. It’s not out of the question that the former could begin stateside depending upon how advanced the Cubs think he is in his development. Some think he might be a better fit in the outfield because he’s a little bit more athletic than his brother.
There’s no question that the Cubs have significant depth at the position, they just don’t have anybody who has really broken out. Hernandez is seen as a top 100 Prospect by Baseball America and could really come into his own once he starts playing stateside.
Here are the other position breakdowns: