Sunday, March 10, 2013
The "hot" corner on the North Side
By Jason Catania
For a rebuilding club, the Chicago Cubs have most of their positions already settled at this stage of camp. Perhaps the only problem spot -- emphasis on "problem" -- is third base.
The Cubs had trouble there last year, too, as the team's combined OPS at the hot corner was just .611, second-worst in baseball and just barely edging out their neighbors on the South Side. However, unlike the White Sox, who at least addressed the situation by signing Jeff Keppinger to man third base, the Cubs chose simply to bring back the main offenders from 2012: Ian Stewart, Luis Valbuena and Josh Vitters.
Mark Potash put it oh-so-cleverly in Thursday's Sun-Times: "Cubs manager Dale Sveum knows who’s on first and what’s on second. The problem is that I Don’t Know is on third."
As Gordon Wittenmyer, Potash's colleague, wrote recently, Stewart is actually considered the frontrunner for the job, although it's more by default. The 27-year-old Stewart, who hit just .201 before missing most of the year after undergoing wrist surgery, was dealing with a left quad injury. That gave a bit of an opening to Valbuena, also 27, who fared only slightly better in half a season with the Cubs in 2012 by hitting .219.
Beyond those two, there's Vitters, a 23-year-old who was the third overall pick back in 2007, who made his debut last season and looked thoroughly overmatched, slashing .121/.193/.202 with 33 whiffs in his first 109 big-league plate appearances. While he's almost certain to start out back in Triple-A, the one thing Vitters does have going for him is that he's the only righty-hitting bat of the trio, so he could work his way into a platoon situation at some point.