Cubs: 2017 Infield Preview

Last year the entire Cubs infield was voted to start the All-Star Game. Sure, fan loyalty may have helped, but there’s no doubt that the North Side has one of the best infields in the game. Let’s take a look at what this elite infield will look like in 2017.

First Base

Do I even need to type his name? Fan favorite and perennial All-Star Anthony Rizzo will, obviously, be given the starting job at first base. Rizzo is one of the best first-basemen in the game, ending the 2016 season with a .292 batting average and 32 home runs. Rizzo will be seeing a ton of starts, not only because of how good he is, but because there really is nobody else that plays first base well.

Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Chris Coghlan, Willson Contreras, and Ben Zobrist all played at first base last year at some point, but none of them are first-basemen by trade. Due to Kyle Schwarber‘s under-par defense behind the plate, many believe that he’s better suited to be a first basemen, and he will probably get playing time there, if for no other reason than to give Rizzo a break.

There’s also upcoming prospects Jeimer Candelario and Mark Zagunis, again, neither of whom are mainly first basemen (Candelario is a third-baseman and Zagunis is a former catcher converted to an outfielder), but may still see innings there due to either bad defense elsewhere or to give rest to everyday starters.

Second Base

35-year-old veteran, and 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist will most likely get the nod to start at second base on opening day, despite being reduced to a left field role during the postseason. That being said, this is the only position with which there is some level of controversy.

The young and electric Javier Baez also plays second base, and took over the starting position during the postseason after a fantastic start to the NLDS. He will probably be returning to the bench to start off the season, but not because he’s bad; he simply needs time to mature and grow. Baez has shown defensive skills and running finesse like no other (some of the things that he does are so crazy good you have to see them to believe them), but continues to make stupid errors in the field, a weakness that was on full display during the World Series.

He also continues to have offensive troubles, including attempting to both lay off of bad pitches, and not swing for the fences constantly. Despite a lot of progress, he’s still not 100% there, and for that reason, the seasoned Zobrist has the advantage.  Utility man Tommy La Stella is also projected to make the MLB roster, but while Baez will consistently get starts (both at second base and elsewhere), La Stella will most likely be a rarely used backup. He’s known for his pinch-hitting prowess (Joe Maddon calls him “3-AM” due to the fact that he can “wake up at 3 a.m. and hit anyone”) but his name will not be seen in the opening lineup card often.

I’m also going to use this space to talk about Chesny Young, a previously unheard of Cubs prospect who seems to continually fly under everyone’s radar. He spent all of 2016 at Double-A Tennessee, and hit .303 and he has literally never had a pro year in which he hit under .300. He also has the ability to play multiple different positions well, with second being his primary spot. He’ll probably start the season at Triple-A Iowa, meaning that he has the ability to force a spot on the major league roster if he continues to be a hitting machine. There is a very good chance that we see Young wearing a Cubs uniform by the end of 2017.

Shortstop

A (soon to be) 23-year-old, in only his third season in Major League Baseball, will be in charge of the defense of the defending World Series champions. What were you doing (or what will you be doing) when you were 23?

Addison Russell is a defensive monster. He’s had only two seasons in the big leagues, and yet is 68th in the entire MLB in career defensive WAR. There is nobody ahead of him who’s played the same (or less) amount of time as him. He also was tied for third in the entire league last year in defensive WAR at 2.7. His offense isn’t as good as his defense, but he has shown power, hitting 21 bombs in 2016.

On the other hand, his career .240 average could use some improvement. Despite offensive struggles, Russell is guaranteed a whole lot of starts because only one other Cub on the roster, Javier Baez, excels at the shortstop The lack of other shortstops also is evidence that Baez will be Russell’s backup throughout the year.

Third Base

You all know him. In the past few months, this man has won the World Series, been named the MVP, and gotten married.

I don’t think I could make up a better-sounding story if I tried. Of course I am talking about the former second overall pick (let’s take a moment to thank the Houston Astros for taking Mark Appel first), the handsomest person to ever man the hot corner, the one and only Kris Bryant. There is zero controversy; Bryant will be the starting third baseman on opening day. The aforementioned Tommy La Stella and Javy Baez will be the main backups for Bryant at third, along with Jeimer Candelario whenever he is called up to the big leagues.

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