Tagged: DJ LeMahieu

Player Focus: Ian Stewart

In keeping with the theme of looking ahead, one of the interesting players for the Cubs moving forward is going to be 3B Ian Stewart.  Acquired from the Rockies, along with AA pitcher Casey Weathers for Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu, Stewart was the first man given the chance to replace the departed Aramis Ramirez.  Stewart’s numbers, in 55 games, were not spectacular, but there is more to the story than plainly looking at the numbers.

Biographical Information:    

Photo: David Kohl/ AP

Height: 6’3″
Weight: 215
Age: 27
Drafted: 1st Round (10th Overall), 2003 by the Colorado Rockies
Debut: 8/11/2007 (0-2, Run)

Cubs Statistical Analysis:

As I said earlier, there is more to the numbers than meets the eye for Ian Stewart.  First of all, he played in 55 games, so it is almost unfair to do this.  But, in his 55 games, he hit 5 HR and drove in 17.  That put him on a pace for 15 HR and 50 RBI in a full 162 game season.  What goes largely unnoticed is how much Stewart improved as the season wore on.  After hitting .169 in April, he hit .225 and .226 in May and June, respectively.  Part of that is how cold and windy it is at Wrigley in April.  As the weather got warmer, so did Stewart’s numbers.  With a ground ball: fly ball ratio of 2:1, it is fair to say Stewart would have out-performed his 15 HR pace.  One prime example is the bottom of the ninth inning on opening day.  Ian Stewart absolutely tattooed a baseball into the well in right field.  If there was anything short of gale force winds, he hits a game tying home run in the ninth inning on opening day.  But there were winds (I promise, I was there in a sweatshirt…it was cold) and he ended up with a hustle triple.  Offensively, his numbers were not great, but they were not as terrible as some of the haters have made them out to be.  Defensively, he was outstanding.  His range factors, fielding percentage, and runs saved numbers were all in the league average area, but some those numbers were all off the pace of his career averages.  I can speculate that defensive positioning had something to do with the slight drop in his defensive numbers, but his leather prowess did not go unnoticed by Dale Sveum, who said on more than one pregame show that his glove was keeping him in the line-up, whether there was a lefty starter or not.

Player Comparison:

Who else do Cubs’ fans know who hit about .225 (what Stewart hit in May/ June, which is a better indicator than his April average), with power from the left side of the plate and an excellent glove at a corner infield position?  I’ll give you all a hint: Carlos Pena.  And do any of us remember how much we liked Carlos Pena?  Of course not…because he’s not a Cub, anymore.  Ian Stewart, however, is a very similar player in what he brought to the line-up.  He brought a great glove and a workman like attitude, in spite of a wrist injury that absolutely hampers the ability to swing a bat.  If healthy, I have no doubt in my mind Stewart can match the 25-30 HR and 80 or so RBI Pena gave the Cubs in 2011.

The BIG Question:

Will Ian Stewart’s wrist heal after surgery enough to make him a productive player, and will be he back with the Cubs next season?

The Answer:

Without trying to read Jed Hoyer’s and Theo Esptein’s minds, I would guess that the two questions are going to be related.  Obviously, the Cubs sent a pretty good prospect in Colvin and a player many in the Cubs’ organization thought had a chance to be an everyday 2B in LeMahieu for Stewart, so the price was not cheap at all to get him here.  55 games with a bad wrist is not exactly a good opportunity to gauge what a player can do day in and day out.  Should Stewart get the go-ahead to start baseball activities again and gets his swing going again, he is worth at the very least, a look in Spring Training.  At best, he could find the swing that made him the 10th pick in the draft nine years ago.  To be picked that high, it is apparent that there is some talent in there.  Stewart said on Twitter some time ago that was was willing to take $1.5M for next season, which is peanuts in baseball, so he is absolutely worth bringing back, in my mind.  Josh Vitters continues to work hard, but he hasn’t exactly grabbed the bull by the horns and locked himself down at the hot corner.  Absent a surge by Vitters between now and October 3, there is no good reason not to bring Stewart back.  There are no good prospects, other than Vitters, waiting in the wings to come up right away.  Free agency does not offer too much of a short term, stop gap player to add for a year or two, and certainly  not as inexpensively as Stewart will be.  My crystal ball is not always right, but I cannot see why Stewart wouldn’t be back…at least for the spring.

The Not So Fun Side of the Deadline

Since the arrival of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, there has been a significant changing of the guard, which started with the trade to acquire 3B Ian Stewart for OF Tyler Colvin and IF DJ LeMahieu.  Last night, the Cubs sent three of their veteran players packing, all of whom were rumored to be on the move.  Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson are headed to Atlanta, and Geovany Soto is headed to Texas.  For those players the rumors end.  For the rest, there are still about 13 1/2 hours of uncertainty remaining until the deadline.

Photo: @IAN_STEWART_2sc (Ian Stewart’s Twitter Avatar)

Veteran players are always going to be on notice when a team is trying to rebuild for the future.  Ian Stewart was acquired to be a piece to replace the departed Aramis Ramirez, who went to the Brewers as a free agent.  Rumors are a part of the deal that comes with any kind of rebuilding  process.  Stewart had not had his best season in Colorado in 2011.  Colvin had been counted on to take over in right field for the Cubs after a strong rookie campaign, in which he hit 20 home runs.  The “change of scenery” swap had been rumored for quite a while before the trade actually happened.  When I asked Ian on Twitter (@IAN_STEWART_2sc … great guy, very fan friendly, I highly recommend following him) what the rumors were like, he was candid, saying he “hated it.”  And that he “love(ed) it there [in CO].”  What it all boils down to is, it is difficult to understand what it is like to be traded or to be the subject of trade rumors because very few of us will ever be professional athletes.

The trade deadline and off-season “hot stove” bring a lot of excitement to media and to fans.  There is another side of it, though.  Players with families are forced to pick up and move on short notice. Focusing on Ian Stewart in this piece was easy.  First, he’s accessible on twitter, in one of his late night Q&A sessions.  Second, he is one of the younger parts brought in for the changing of the guard, and was subjected to rumors about being traded to the Cubs for quite a while before the trade actually happened.

All of the Day’s Moves

First, 3B Ian Stewart was placed on the 15 Day Disabled list today with his wrist injury.  I have not seen for sure, but I assume that is retroactive to the 12th, which is the last day Stewart played.  Surgery is an option for Stewart, as several of the Cubs’ beat writers have discussed the possibility of nerve damage.  Hopefully, Stewart can recover and realize his potential, and not make trading DJ LeMaheiu and Tyler Colvin look like a tremendous mistake.  In his place, the Cubs recalled IF Luis Valbuena from Iowa, and he started at third this afternoon in the loss to the Tigers.

Additionally, the Cubs activated C Wellington Castillo from the 15 Day Disabled List and Designated C Koyie Hill for Assignment.  The Hill DFA removes him from the 25 man roster to make room for Castillo and from the 40 man roster to make room for Valbuena.

Youth, Talent, and Inexperience

In my last post, on what I project to be the pitching staff this season, I referred to the Cubs’ pitching last season as “an unmitigated disaster.”  I have no qualms about that statement because, in short, it was.  It was not over- stated.  It was not even putting a microscope on a weak spot from a team that struggled for a good portion of the season.  It just was what it was.  With all of that said, the guys behind the pitching last season contributed to it mightily.  Last season, the Cubs were 29th in defensive efficiency with a .680 rating.  That narrowly edged out the Minnesota Twins, who finished with a .679 DER.  To contrast, the Tampa Bay Rays were first in MLB with a .724 DER.  Nobody in the majors topped the 134 errors by the Cubs last season, which led to an expected last place finish in fielding percentage.  The pitching was bad.  The fielding was worse.  If the Cubs have a snowball’s chance in Mesa, AZ of making the playoffs, those numbers need to improve dramatically.

The offense was very middle of the road, and the numbers bear that out.  They finished between 10th and 20th in the majors in just about all offensive categories, except for stolen bases, where they were down toward the bottom of the league.  Don’t expect that to get much better this season.  With the losses of 3B Aramis Ramirez, 1B Carlos Pena, and OF Kosuke Fukudome, a significant portion of the output from last season is gone.  The biggest bats left in the line up are C Geovany Soto, LF Alfonso Soriano, and SS Starlin Castro.  The only one of those guys that is consistent is Castro, so the offense figures to be a work in progress all season long.

The position players are going to be a fluid group for all 162 games, in spite of what Dale Sveum said about sticking to one line up earlier this week.  As such, take this projection with the smallest of grains of salt…

Line- Up and Batting Order

1. RF David DeJesus – The free agent from Oakland figures to be the first of the lead off hitters this season, although that may change as the season wears on.  He’s never played more than 144 games in a season, and hit .240 last season with the A’s.  That figures to be an aberration, though, because his career average of .284 is significantly better.  If he can be who he was before 2011, hitting in the neighborhood of .300 and getting on base around .350, he figures to hang on to the job for a while.

2. 2B Darwin Barney – Darwin wore down as the season wore on last season after a red hot start.  He added some muscle this off-season, which may help him.  Aside from the offensive struggles late, Darwin was a nice surprise for a bad team last season.  His defense was average and he figures to continue to be an opportunistic base stealer, having nine and being caught twice last year.  As he grows at the major league level, his numbers could rise.  Or, he could be in for the dreaded sophomore slump.  With the way his teammates and coaches have raved about his work ethic, I would bet on the former before the latter.

3. SS Starlin Castro– Starlin figures to settle into the third slot in the line-up this season, although Dale Sveum has said he will consult Starlin about where he wants to hit.  The free swinging short stop doesn’t walk too much, but still managed to hit over .300 again last season, and led the NL in hits with 207 at age 21.  He did have 29 errors in 158 games, which was actually an improvement in his defense from the 210 campaign, where he had 27 in

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

123 games.  Those numbers are a bit misleading, though, because Starlin makes errors on plays that would be hits with others short stops because he has such great range.  He also makes throws that a number of other short stops would not dream of making because of his sensational arm.  Expect former major league short stop and new Cubs’ Skipper to work with Castro.  And expect the errors to come down.

4. 1B Bryan LaHair – The reigning PCL MVP gets the opportunity to start, and will probably hit fourth in the line- up on the heels of his 38 HRs in AAA last season.  He is not going to replace the production from Aramis Ramirez, but he did have a good showing after he was called up last season.  He hit .288 with 2 HRs and 10 RBI in 59 at bats last season.  If he can contribute at that pace, with about 500 at bats this season, he will be just fine.  There will be a drop off in production in the clean up slot, but it will be manageable.

5. CF Marlon Byrd – Marlon had a tough year last season.  His veteran presence in CF and in the middle of the line- up are important to a young team.  He comes in slimmed down and expecting to improve on his .276 average and 9 HRs from last season.  Considering he lost six weeks with the facial fracture suffered in Boston, it wasn’t nearly as bad, statistically, as it looks.  If he can rebound and hit around .290 and give the team the 12-15 HRs and 60 or so RBIs that he typically gives, it will be a nice rebound for Marlon this year.

6. LF Alfonso Soriano – ‘Fonsi is the guy that epitomizes why Cubs’ fans hated Jim Hendry.  Even though there is wide spread information available that says he was a product of the Tribune Co. ownership group, Hendry takes the fall for a guy that has hit no fewer than 20 HRs in this five seasons in Chicago.  He is the last known threat in the line- up, too.  His 26 HRs and 88 RBIs last season were a strong number for an aging outfielder.  He is not the guy that everybody thought the Cubs were getting before the 2007 season, but he is still a legit power threat, and the streaky hitter can carry the team for weeks at a time when he gets hot.  He will likely continue to be a defensive liability that is replaced by either Reed Johnson or Tony Campana late in games when the team is leading, but I would expect, barring injury, another 25 HRs and 80 RBIs from Soriano in a status quo season for the veteran.

7. C Geovany Soto – The bad news about Geo is that he goes up and down in his production from year to year.  The good news is that last year was a down year, so he is due a good year.  After slimming down again, Soto thinks that he can keep the weight off this time. He will likely give the Cubs the 20 HRs and 60 RBIs that he has been in the ballpark of giving, but if he brings his average back to around .280 and starts taking the walks he took in 2010, it should be a resurgent year for Soto.  He called last season a “confidence problem.”   If he can manage to focus on each at- bat, many of his issues might correct themselves, and we could see a much better Soto in 2012.

8. 3B Ian Stewart – Remember 2010…when Tyler Colvin had a good bat, and made Cubs’ fans think about him being the first real fixture in RF since Sammy Sosa?  I introduce the you the Colorado Rockies’ version of Colvin.  In 2009 and 2010, Stewart was a legit hitter with the Rockies with 25 and 18 HRs, respectively.  His average has never blown anybody away, but when he was able to put the ball in play, it was generally going to be with some authority.  Now, he’s a Cub after being traded for the aforementioned Colvin, along with infielder, DJ LeMahieu in the ultimate “change of scenery” swap.  If he can recapture any of the offense he had in 2009 and 2010 under Hitting Coach Rudy Jaramillo, he might be able to fend off slowly progressing Josh Vitters this season.

9. PITCHER

Bench

IF Jeff Baker – Super utility player, Baker, can play First, Second, Third, and the corner outfield with some effectiveness, and hits well against left handed pitching.  He will play a lot this season, in pinch hitting and platoon roles in multiple positions.

Photo Courtesy of AP

OF Reed Johnson – “Web Gem” is going to back up all three outfield spots this season, and will be the “go to” defensive replacement for Soriano late in games this year.  Reed is a strong veteran that seems to deliver in the biggest moments with either a defensive play that saves runs or with a huge hit.  I wouldn’t expect anything different than what Reed did last season in the 2012 campaign.

OF Tony Campana – Tony’s game changing speed is the reason he will likely break camp with the big league team, being the Cubs’ lone serious stolen base threat.  He is going to be a pinch runner and defensive replacement when he gets into the game, with the occasional start in any of the three outfield slots.  This is the first person that will head back to Iowa if and when any of Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, or Dave Sappelt join the big league team.

IF Adrian Cardenas – The 24 year old middle infielder stole the roster spot held by Blake DeWitt, and figures to make the team as a back up at both middle infield positions after being claimed off of waivers from the Oakland A’s.  He’s a left handed hitter, who had strong numbers in AAA last season, hitting .314, and runs better than Dewitt.  

C Wellington Castillo – With the departure of Koyie Hill, the opportunity to make the major league team on a permanent basis opens up for Castillo, after seeing some time last year with Soto injured. Castillo is a good hitter and a strong defensive catcher.  If he proves that he can handle the young pitching staff, he is the favorite over Steve Clevenger and Jason Jaramillo to win the back up role out of camp.

Other Expected Contributors

CF Brett Jackson – Brett Watch 2012 is on in full force, as this could be the year where the Cubs’ top prospect makes his debut in front of the ivy at Wrigley.  I would anticipate that to be the case at some point.  That means Marlon Byrd either moves over to one of the corners (left field if someone can be found to take Soriano) or Byrd himself gets traded.

IF Blake DeWitt – Blake probably will not make the roster out of camp, but he will most likely be with the team at some point over the course of the season.  He is the first guy up if there is an injury to any infielder because he can play second, third, short, and the corner outfield.  He may be released out of camp or a trade could be sought if he fails to make the 25 man roster out of camp.

1B Anthony Rizzo– The 1B of the future, Rizzo will start the season in Iowa, but I would be stunned if he isn’t with the major league team before July.  If Ian Stewart or Bryan LaHair struggle or get hurt, this is the guy that will

Photo: Denis Poroy - Getty Images

probably get called up.  While he probably will not start over veteran Jeff Baker, he would likely be with the major league team to get some spot starts as a left handed hitter.

OF Dave Sappelt – Dave was acquired from the Reds in the Sean Marshall trade and has plus speed and plays good defense.  He got some light duty with the Reds last season, and figures to be with the Cubs at some point of the season, as the first man up if there is an injury.  

OF Matt Szczur – Matt is the “other” outfield prospect that figures to make is MLB debut.  He also figures to be the RF of the future, playing next to Brett Jackson when he gets to Chicago.  Matt is a Five Tool prospect and could find his way to Chicago this season if there are injuries or if the team falls back early.

3B Josh Vitters – Josh will probably be an injury or September call up this season.  His slow development has been hidden by the fact that Aramis Ramirez has been at third for the last eight years.  He seemingly figured it out last season in the minors.  If Ian Stewart struggles this season, he is going to get his opportunity.  At 22, he is young enough, but after four years of minor league baseball behind him, his leash to figure it out is shortening.

The youth of this team is the first thing that should be noticed.  There will be some offensive and defensive growing pains with the core youth with this team.  Like I declared in my preview post, I do not expect the Cubs to be a viable playoff threat this season, and will struggle to get to .500 if they manage to.  What cannot be understated is the talent of the collection of players being led by Dale Sveum.  His devotion to fundamentals and playing hard should suit this roster perfectly.  If the can grow, this core group will be a viable threat in 2013 and beyond.  This season, though, is for “building.”  And it is going to start with this foundation of players gaining invaluable experience at the major league level this season.