Among the goals of a pipeline should be forever competition at as many positions as possible at as many affiliate levels as possible. With the Cubs, having Kris Bryant at third base could possibly have gotten the front office to look more aggressively in other directions for that position. Which, at present, may have them a bit tethered on a few names, in Bryant and David Bote, with little behind them on a depth chart. This is a look at pipeline depth at third base.
As I navigated how to write this article, I asked a question that wound up having no answer. Accurate or not. I asked myself who was the principal third baseman in either Myrtle Beach (Advanced-A) or Tennessee (Double-A) in 2019. It wasn't a case of "Which of these three guys at either level?", so much as I couldn't name a regular at either spot at either stop. That, despite prioritizing the pipeline in 2019.
Cam Balego was the usual third baseman for the Pelicans. Balego was a 30th Round choice from Mercyhurst University, and might utility his way into a big league career. His Carolina League OPS was an acceptable .753, but he's unlikely to be a regular third baseman at the top level. In Double-A, Gioskar Amaya was one of six Smokies to start double-digit games at third. He started 46 games, while two guys behind him (Robel Garcia and Rule 5 Draft casualty Vimael Machin) have MLB service time now.
The Cubs have been rather non-committed to adding third basemen in the draft. Since Bryant in 2013, they have drafted Matt Rose (2015, 11th Round) from Georgia State, Austin Filiere (2017, 7th Round) from MIT, Luke Reynolds (2018, 10th Round) from Southern Mississippi, and Ryan Reynolds (2019, 14th Round) from Texas in the top 20 rounds out of any college. Rose went to the White Sox in the Jose Quintana trade. Filiere reached Low-A South Bend, and no further. Both of the Reynolds choices made sense at the time, However, to prevent scarcity, adding legitimate college bats at every position is a useful periodic option. The Cubs haven't done that.
Which means the team’s current third base options are Bryant, recent draft picks like David Bote, free agents, and international options. Fortunately, Christopher Morel is one of the latter. Now on the 40-man roster, Morel figures to get in-game looks the next month or so. It's far from Morel or nothing, but even Triple-A Iowa has leaned on veteran minor league free agents over Cubs development options at third, recently. Since Bote and Jeimer Candelario, other options have been a bit sparse.
Morel figures to be in Advanced-A (now, South Bend) or Double-A Tennessee this year. My small wager-sized bag of Peanut M&Ms are on his brother Rafael Morel getting quite a few looks in Myrtle Beach. Both seem two-way players, and are probably more third base than shortstop types. It would be nice to have a solid piece above those two with team control, but you don't get what you don't select.
The big gamble at third is Reggie Preciado, who was acquired from the Padres in the Yu Darvish deal. If either Morel is useful, and Preciado develops as hoped, third base could become a strength, a bit akin to possible catching depth. Preciado has both spray and pop in his game. Any hopes of him at shortstop might be sapped by growth and the Cubs having depth at the position in the future. With Ed Howard, Cristian Hernandez and others at short, I doubt it.
Synopsis? In 2021, Bryant, Bote, and a handful of others, maybe. By 2023, quite a few questions should be answered better than now. How to avoid relapses into reliance on one or two players to save a position? Draft college players across the field every draft, including a top -our round pick at each spot every three or four years. Then, develop them like it matters.