Matt Shaw Focused on 3B, Cubs Filling Prospect Rankings

I’ve been really tied up over the last few days and my coverage has been limited as a result, so I’m going to have to pressure-cook this one a little bit. The Cubs have been in search of help at the infield corners all offseason, with free agency initially looking like their most likely solution. As time has gone on and Jed Hoyer has remained steadfast in his search for value, however, internal options may win out.

One of those may be Christopher Morel, who got some practice reps over at first during Dominican Winter League play while spending most of his game action at third. Then came a trade for Michael Busch, who immediately jumped near the top of the team’s prospect rankings and is being penciled in by many as the Opening Day first baseman. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for Rhys Hoskins and also gives the Cubs leverage in any Cody Bellinger negotiations, particularly with Pete Crow-Armstrong primed to take center field.

We’ll get to more on those rankings in just a moment, but let’s first turn to yet another possibility for internal promotion. Matt Shaw played primarily the middle infield in college at Maryland, but he’s got the pop to handle third. And while many question whether he’s got the arm strength to handle the hot corner, watching Nick Madrigal acquit himself well there last year should dispel any concerns.

“I’ve actually taken probably 99 percent of my reps at third,” Shaw told the audience at Cubs Convention. “That’s just something I wanted to do. I did shortstop obviously the last couple years and I haven’t been able to get a lot of reps at third. I was like, might as well spend some time getting used to the position and getting comfortable there.”

One other note about arm strength: If he can handle throws from the hole at short, he’ll be fine over at third. We know the Cubs aren’t going to have an opening up the middle for several more years, so Shaw is blocked from either of the spots he’s played the most. Morel is the furthest thing from a guaranteed to stick in any one spot and I still think a utility/DH role is where he’s best suited, though playing him at third early in the season makes sense.

It’s safe to assume Shaw won’t break camp with the big club, but putting him at third with Triple-A Iowa and letting him force his way to Chicago by midsummer would be an ideal development. After all, opting not to sign the likes of Hoskins, Bellinger, or Matt Chapman — none are out of the question, mind you, just getting hypothetical — means the Cubs are going to have to ride their young guys.

Feel free to chalk that up to ownership being cheap or the front office being timid, those sentiments are far too widespread for me to bother contextualizing. And true though they may be to some extent, it’s impossible to deny the amount of faith the organization has in a system that is brimming with talent. That confidence is being echoed by outside evaluators, with Baseball Prospectus putting nine Cubs prospects in their top 101 and Baseball America putting five in their top 50.

Crow-Armstrong topped the system (20 on BP, 18 on BA), followed by Shaw (21, 31) and Cade Horton (24, 27) in a near tie based on aggregate ranks. Owen Caissie (65, 47), Michael Busch (71, 43) also appeared on both lists, then Kevin Alcantara (80), Moises Ballesteros (84), James Triantos (91), and Jordan Wicks (94) made the cut in the longer list.

MLB Pipeline will drop their own top 100 next Friday, so I’m interested to compare that to what we’ve seen so far. Just keep in mind that it’s not simply a matter of waiting to see when these guys debut in Chicago, as there are only 26 roster spots and it’s not possible to field a roster comprised entirely of homegrown talent. Hoyer is going to have to make a trade or three, possibly of blockbuster caliber, before too long.

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