Despite the fact that they’re coming off of a season in which they crossed the century mark for losses, the Chicago Cubs don’t have many position battles coming into 2013, outside of reserve spots and on the pitching staff. One starting gig up for grabs, though, is third base.
The battle in the hot corner will take place between Ian Stewart and Luis Valbuena this spring. Same personnel as last season. Stewart is the favorite, but that may not be the case for too much longer. Valbuena has a decent shot as well, potentially to the point where he could steal the job.
Stewart was acquired prior to 2012, and the results were not good. But that wasn’t entirely his fault. Stewart battled a wrist injury for much of the spring before finally giving it up and going under the knife in at the end of May, which ended his season.
In came Valbuena, who was picked up just a couple of days before last season started. He filled in admirably, with streaks of solid offense backed up by above average defense. That experience last year should prove beneficial for Valbuena this spring.
Stewart is already injured again. A quad strain has him currently sidelined. So even if he is considered the favorite, Valbuena has a shot at some extra reps and a longer look. Early on, it’s starting to look like the tide is turning. Valbuena has flashed some nice power so far this spring, with a couple of extra base hits, including a home run in Saturday’s opener.
While Stewart was once a coveted prospect, there isn’t much of a difference between the two. Valbuena has nice pop at the plate and doesn’t come with the durability issues that Stewart does. Not to mention the fact that Stewart will cost $2 million if the Cubs keep him beyond this spring, while Valbuena will cost under a million.
That could end up being a huge factor in this race. The Cubs could cut Stewart and his health woes loose, while hanging onto Valbuena, who could actually have more upside, when you consider all of the factors. This is going to be an intriguing race to watch for the remainder of the spring.