CHISportsNation

The All-Star Break, while wonderful, just can’t end soon enough to get us back to Cubs baseball. But while we wait, here’s part two of my First Half Review series. Yesterday, I covered the outfield. Today, let’s take a look at the infield.

Who We’ve Seen So Far:

Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Starlin Castro, Kris Bryant, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Welington Castillo, Taylor Teagarden, Kyle Schwarber, Mike Olt, Jonathan Herrera, Tommy La Stella, Mike Baxter, Arismendy Alcantara, Chris Coghlan

What We’ve Seen So Far:

It’s almost not even fun to talk about All Stars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant at this point.

Just kidding – it’s always fun.

Rizzo has a goofy 12.1% strikeout rate and .413 on base percentage. Both he and Bryant have been good for a 3.5 WAR, tying them with Andrew McCutchen for 12th place in all of baseball. Bryant has also been excellent since his highly publicized call up nine games into the season. Although his strikeout rate is high at 30.7%, he still has been a quite productive player with a line of .269/.376/.472.

But we already know about those guys. Let’s move on.

Addison Russell, while also a top five prospect in all of baseball, didn’t quite see his call up get the publicity that Bryant’s did. Although he has slumped for the last few weeks, Russell has shown flashes of what made him such an impressive prospect in the minors. On the defensive side, Russell ranks out as one of the top Second Basemen in baseball this season.

Speaking of good defense, Miguel Montero and David Ross have both been excellent behind the plate. Nonetheless, Montero’s strikeout rate of 25.1% is higher than his career rate of 19.9%. Still, his walk rate is also higher and his on base is right around his career line (.337 to .342). Ross has not produced at the plate so far this season, but his leadership and mentorship of the pitching staff has seemed to make up for that. He also is particularly valuable during Jon Lester starts with his ability to keep runners honest by picking them off.

Arismendy Alcantara appeared to be in an opportune position to snatch a utility role at the start of the season, but he just couldn’t get it going with a 2-for-26 start and was promptly sent to the minors. Tommy La Stella and Mike Olt both had their opportunities to become significant contributors spoiled by injuries. La Stella remains out and Olt has struggled in Iowa with a .200/.262/.367 line.

Due to Alcantara’s rough play and the La Stella, Olt and Javier Baez injuries, Jonathan Herrera has found himself to be a mainstay on the roster and has come up with some rather helpful hits from time to time.

Kyle Schwarber also had a cameo appearance during the Cleveland and Minnesota interleague trip and was excellent as the Designated Hitter. He also played very briefly behind the plate during that stint with fine results.

Alright, well, that should cover everyone of significance on the Cubs’ infield. Right?

Oh, what’s that? I missed someone? A three-time All-Star? Nah, that can’t be right.

Oh. Starlin Castro.

Okay, let’s talk Starlin for a minute. He’s had a really rough go of it in the first half of 2015 and checks into the All Star Break with a very disappointing .247/.283/.321 line and only 14 extra base hits (YIKES!). As per usual, Castro has gotten the brunt of criticism from the media for his offense and his less-than-stellar defense. He’s also continued to hear persistent trade rumors insisting if someone had to go of the Castro/Russell/Baez triumvirate, he would be the one.

What To Expect in the Second Half:

Rizzo is going to keep being Rizzo: Good at bats and good on-base work. My only fear about Rizzo’s game is that his Cubs’ record Hit By Pitch number comes back to literally hurt him. But assuming that doesn’t happen, Rizzo is on pace to finish out an excellent season.

Expect Bryant and Russell’s games to improve. I’d anticipate we’ll see Bryant cut down a bit on his strike outs, walk a little bit more and hit for some more power. Russell was showing signs of working better at-bats toward the end of the first half, and I’d anticipate that will continue and make him a more productive hitter.

Assuming Miguel Montero’s thumb is actually alright after his early exit from Saturday’s game against the White Sox, we’ll see more of the Montero/Ross tandem. While I would assume Ross will typically remain Lester’s personal catcher, I suspect that after a strong showing from Lester with Montero behind the plate last week, we’ll see a couple more Lester/Montero batteries before the season ends.

If Montero is actually injured, though, plan on hearing more demands for Kyle Schwarber to get called up. But no matter how loud those clamors get, I cannot imagine that happening – at least for a little while. The front office clearly sees the value in keeping Schwarber at Catcher but knows that he needs more experience in the minors. An injury to Montero at this point will not force Theo Epstein’s hand in bringing him up prematurely, leaving the Cubs to work with a Ross/Teagarden platoon. I would, however, schedule Schwarber’s return for August 14 when the Cubs take on the White Sox at U.S. Cellular and I would figure he would remain on the roster until the end of the season. Hold your horses until then.

Though Jonathan Herrera has done nothing egregiously wrong (and worn the Double Bubble bucket hat very well), his spot on the roster is far from safe. If Tommy La Stella is healthy soon, he’ll start contending for the utility role and if Javier Baez is healthy and producing at AAA again, he’ll also be in the discussion to replace Herrera.

And then there’s Starlin Castro. No, I don’t think he’s getting traded this month. Unless there’s a very good deal on the table, I don’t think Theo will find a good enough fit right now. Now, if the Mets come calling and offer Noah Syndergaard or someone like him, there may be a discussion to be had. But do we really think the Mets would offer a deal like that for this year’s Castro? Probably not.

I also don’t think we’re going to suddenly see Addison Russell move over to Short, even if Javier Baez crushes the ball in his return to Iowa.

So, I’d figure we will see Starlin remain the starting Shortstop at least for the rest of 2015. Come this offseason and we’ll probably be having a different conversation, but for now we’ve got to hope Starlin can get back to the aggressive game plan that served him so well in 2014. How can that be done? I wish I knew.

The last part of this discussion needs to entail the possibility the Cubs acquire another bench/utility guy who can help out in the infield. With the presence of Bryant, Russell, Rizzo, Castro and Baez, eventually, I don’t think the infield will be a huge need but rumors have connected the Cubs to Ben Zobrist previously and there’s a real possibility he may wind up on the North Side. Zobrist, of course, has a connection to Joe Maddon and would fit nicely on the Cubs (or any team, really) due to his versatility. Aside from a trade for Zobrist or another infield/outfield utility guy, though, I wouldn’t anticipate the Cubs adding to the infield from outside the organization before the 2015 season wraps up.

 

Next Up: Starting Rotation

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