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Do MLB Teams Undervalue Second Basemen?

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The Cubs have been doing well with drafting second basemen recently. Should this be news?

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

When you spend any time at all following minor league players, one thing should never be far from your mind. Most of them are never major league players. This shouldn't be news. Whether it's in short-season ball, or higher up the ladder, due to injury or mere ineffectiveness, most draft picks are misses. However, the more players a system can get productively up the ladder, the more chances the team will have to get benefit from any one selection. The Cubs recently traded two Low-A relievers for a major league player (Jacob Turner) without denting their prospect pool. The better players get developed in the system, the better off the system as a whole will be.

Again, that shouldn't be a bone of contention. Over the decades, the percentage of "quality hits" the Cubs have received from their talent pipeline has been substandard. It will be better over the next decade, in all likelihood, and that is a good thing. Both from position players and pitchers, I expect the parent club production to be better than it had been. Eventually, any disagreement there should go away.

Instead of debating whether it's good to develop prospects in a better fashion, the trendy arguments should become how player development can be improved. One of the things that seems to be being done well is developing the system's supply of second basemen. In recent drafts, second-base selections like Stephen Bruno and Tim Saunders have rocketed through the system. Whether they reach the parent club or not (some, like Saunders, have been thwarted a bit recently), if they are out-performing their peers up the ladder, that is a good thing. Regardless of the position, the more quality the Cubs have the better.

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In any draft, the talent pool depletes rather quickly. It doesn't take much scouting ability to draft the best available on the most preferred lists of the scouting services. To an extent, that is what happens anyway. The first 40 on a service list will probably be about finished by the end of the first round of the draft. After that, signability concerns, questions about individual character concerns, and various other factors come into play.

The further down the draft board a team goes, they usually have to surrender upside projection, certainty in starting ability, or both. A player's versatility is one of the priorities. If he is capable of representing in center field or shortstop, the axiom is that he can probably play pretty much any position. However, if the infielder looks like he won't be able to play short, his value tends to take a massive hit.

Initially, this makes sense. If a minor leaguer can't play shortstop, he has to hit that much better to stick on a big league roster. However, I think that has a blind spot in it. Actually, two of them. The first is that most of those shortstop prospects who are inflated due to a lack in the team's system, will usually wash out anyway. Because most do. What that means is, a team has burned a pick on  player who won't be able to provide long-term value. Why? Because they wrongly thought he would produce at a hard-to-fill position.

Going hand-in-glove with that is that, they ignored another player with perhaps more skills because the ignored player wasn't able to play shortstop at the big league level. Which the guy they selected couldn't do either, anyway.

The player who doesn't project as a long-term shortstop gets ignored, therefore, far too often. Remember that most of the players drafted won't get big league pensions anyway. Finding a player who can produce in A-Ball well enough to push to Double-A Ball is a good thing.

Teams now are, likely, placing too much value on prospects. This is, in part, because so many of the quality players are being locked down by their organizations as quickly as possible. It isn't news to Cubs fans that front offices are using chicanery to extend the service times of their better young players. If good is a positive, good and reasonably priced is far better. The players available on the waiver wire usually have been exposed. Among the only valid options seem to be expensive free agents, and players still under team control.

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While second basemen can't play short up the ladder, likely, they can still be very versatile through a system. As every league below Double-A had the designated hitter in effect, a second baseman can still play pretty much anywhere on the field. They might not make every play, but that rarely happens in the Midwest or South Atlantic League anyway. If a system can find guys who can hit well, and play serviceable defense, those are guys that can be helpful. They can put up numbers, playing whatever position suits the team, from second base to outfield, to a little third base or even first base, as teams aren't necessarily committed to having back-up first baseman at any level. (The first baseman will get his 110 or 120 starts, and they'll find someone to fill in when he needs a day off. A slugging second baseman fits there as well as anyone.) A decent defensive second baseman can fill in at short in the minors most of the time anyway. Though, each team is better off having a true shortstop or two anyway.

This year, the Cubs signed two drafted second basemen. One is Chesny Young, from Mercer University in Georgia. Drafted in the 14th round, Young's OPS last season in college was .886, even though he hit just four homers. He walked twice as much as he fanned for Mercer last season. He isn't a base stealing threat, and mainly played third base in college. I would imagine when April rolls around, Young will be in line for a shot at second in High-A Daytona. His Kane County OPS is .769, which is mainly due to a .333 batting average.

The Cubs also chose Andrew Ely from the University of Washington this year. Selected in the 32nd round, Ely was more of a traditional second baseman, hitting second most nights for the ranked Huskies squad. Ely was named All-Conference in the Pac-12 as a junior, was on the All-Defensive team as well, and led the nation in sacrifice bunts. Ely's OPS as a junior was .804, and he walked 28 times as compared to 32 strikeouts. Ely currently has an OPS of .898 in the Arizona Rookie League, and has as many homers in 18 games as a professional as he did in a distinguished three-year college career.

"He should be pounding pitching in the AZL!"

True that, but he is. He is positioning himself for being in line for a spot in Kane County (Low-A) or Boise (Short Season) next year. If he keeps pounding the ball, I'd guess he gets to Geneva at some point in 2015. And maybe further after that.

To that end, he was an emergency call-up to Iowa near the end of the season. Despite skipping four levels, he had hits in his first two games at the highest minor-league level, and ripped a homer halfway up the berm in his second game.

Developing talent in the minor leagues is an important, though often invisible, part of a good system. Finding talent in later rounds that can eventually be parlayed into something of value is very helpful. However, it isn't always just luck. Or benefits from a crapshoot. It is a meshing of scouts locating talent, coaches eliciting the best from the players, who themselves are dedicated to becoming as good in their chosen profession as they can be. Many organizations have more weak links than the Cubs do, which will be a benefit in the future.

The Cubs will have a good parent club rather soon. Earning a full-time spot on that 25-man roster will be hard to do. A really crafty way to add talent at that point will be to sign and develop players from any position, spot on the globe, or place on the toolsy/grindy spectrum. develop them to their fullest. If they end up being good, but nooooooooooot quite good enough for Wrigley, flip them to a team that isn't so good at developing talent, for whatever the Cubs need at that point.

Use other minor league systems as your secondary development system. Like other teams used to do with the Cubs.