Make no mistake about it, Darwin Barney is arguably the best defensive second baseman in all of baseball. Barney won the Gold Glove in 2012 and should have won another in 2013 for his incredible defensive play. The problem with Barney is his complete lack of production at the plate. In 2013, he posted an laughably bad .208/.266/.303 triple-slash.
His glove is great, but how much longer can the Chicago Cubs go on without getting any production out of the position? Well, I guess that depends on when the prospects are ready. The Cubs have arguably the best minor league system in all of baseball. They are loaded with infield talent, including Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara.
According to most scouts, Baez is the top prospect in the Cubs’ system and a top-5 or 10 prospect in all of baseball. He is an incredible power hitter, as his 37 home runs in 517 at-bats shows from last season. Baez reached Double-A last season and crushed it, hitting .294/.346/.638. It is expected that he will start the 2014 season in triple-A and reach the majors at some point.
Baez is a shortstop right now, but with Starlin Castro manning the position at the big leagues, it is expected that Baez will be the one changing positions. Third base seems to be the most likely scenario for Baez, but it is possible that he takes over second base from Barney, or stay at short while Castro moves to second. Regardless, a spot will be opened up for Baez when he is ready, and Barney could be the one being replaced.
Alcantara is not quite the top prospect that Baez is, but he is a great talent in his own right. Alcantara is a slick-fielding middle infielder with nice speed and surprising power. He spent all of 2013 in double-A where he hit .271/.352/.451 with 15 home runs and 36 doubles. He also stole 31 bases and was only caught stealing six times. Alcantara will also start the season in triple-A and when he is ready for the big leagues, he would be a much better offensive option than Barney without losing too much defense.
The Cubs are probably just best off keeping Barney at second base until the prospects are ready. They should put him in the lineup and hope for the best. His BABIP was a career-low .222 in 2012, which tells us that he got a little unlucky and will probably have a few more balls fall in this year.
If Barney can turn things around a little bit offensively, maybe the Cubs can trade him for a nice prospect or two, or they could hang on to him and hope that he can become the future backup middle infielder. Regardless, with the talent coming up through the system, it is very unlikely that Barney will hold on to his starting job much longer.