With above average power and defense combined with elite on-base skills, Chicago Cubs infielder Luis Valbuena has quietly been one of the best third basemen in baseball during the 2014 season. Valbuena’s weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) of .358 is No. 3 overall in MLB. That is above Adrian Beltre (.354), David Wright (.335) and Evan Longoria (.309).
Valbuena has taken his game to another level this season due to a career-high walk rate of 16.2 percent, a career-high ISO of .171 and a career-high BABIP of .316. While a .316 BABIP is near the league average of .300, Valbuena has never been above .260 in his previous four seasons, which is why his batting average has always held him back from gaining more playing time.
The problem for Valbuena is that rookie Mike Olt has shown glimpses of becoming an impact Major League third baseman with nine home runs and 24 RBIs. With at-bats at third base dwindling, Valbuena has seen most of his recent starts come at second base. While he has been sharing the position with Darwin Barney, but even in a strict platoon, Valbuena will see the lion’s share of the at-bats.
Valbuena deserves to have a starting job but he finds himself in limbo on this Cubs team. Top prospects Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez will have the first chance to take over second base long term, and either Mike Olt or Kris Bryant will likely hold down the third base job for the foreseeable future. The best thing for both Valbuena and the Cubs is most likely a trade to a team that can either use some versatility, or needs a quick upgrade at second or third base.
Valbuena has a proven track record as a patient hitter who will rack up the walks, and his game has become complete as his bat has become more consistent with balls in play, in addition to his above average pop. He would be a welcome addition to a contender with the promise of consistently quality at-bats and the versatility to play across the infield.
As long as Valbuena can keep up his hot start, he should eventually take over as a full-time starter — it just won’t be on the Cubs.