Tuesday, June 27, 2006

looking forward: shortstop

as promised, an organizational position-by-position analysis is forthcoming from this page -- though, in doing the preliminary work for it, this writer is compelled first to note that the cub organization is a disaster not only at the major league level. the daemonic management of andy macfail and jim hendry has left the farm system in tatters in most respects as well. if a 100-loss season isn't enough to have their heads put on pikes, this should be. this writer, for one, didn't consider it possible for a major league farm system to produce no quality everyday position player for two decades. this one has done just that, and has no sincere promise of turning it around.

the short version is that the cubs are shot not only for 2006 but quite certainly for years to come. if you don't care to read in detail about that, dear reader, perhaps you can save your efforts for something more useful.

please note that the depth chart herein considered runs only as far at the high-a daytona cubs -- what inhabits the minor league netherworlds of peoria and lower is so far from the majors that nothing can really be reliably said about any player there playing.

we start with shortstop, where ronny cedeno has taken the first half of 2006 to demonstrate that this page is largely spot on about his talents. cedeno is scrapping as hard as he knows how at the dish. to his credit, he seemed to understand early that he has virtually no capacity for power and so ignored that facet of the game, inside-outing the ball as often as possible to try to get on base. an initially horrifying impatience at the plate has mitigated somewhat in the last month, the kind of adjustment that players have to make in the majors.

however, try as he might, cedeno simply isn't a hitter and there's no sugarcoating that. whether you care for sabermetric measurements like runs created (14th among 16 qualified nl shortstops) and secondary average (16th among 16) or k:bb ratio (15th at a stunning 5:1) -- or if you prefer less arcane measures like on-base percentage (14th at .299) or ops (14th at .670) -- any way it's cut, cedeno is a failure in progress as a big leaguer.

let us dispel a couple of myths that have sprung up in cedeno's defense as a means of denial, for there are many of us who, seeing all is lost for the team, still grasp for some shard of hope -- and many have irrationally clung to cedeno, believing that youth may yet forgive all. here is a list of qualified nl rookies. one can clearly see that youth is not a defense for cedeno -- most of these players are younger than he is, and cedeno would nonetheless rank 8th among 10 (were he included) in ops or obp, and dead last in xbh, k:bb, runs created and secondary average. indeed, among all major league players aged 25 and under with at least 200 plate appearances though june 26, cedeno ranks 31st of 37 in ops; 32nd in obp; 36th in k:bb ratio; 30th in vorp rate and 33rd in eqa. among a peer group by age, then, it can be said without reservation that cedeno is as much a laggard as anywhere else.

another myth is that of a positive trend. that is a notion just as easily defrocked.

april: 308/341/474/816, 78 ab, 10 k/4 bb, 1 sb/2 cs
may: 276/294/305/598, 105 ab, 21 k/3 bb, 4 sb/1 cs
june: 260/278/377/655, 77 ab, 13 k/2 bb, 0 sb/2 cs

this is a player who lucked into a brilliant first week and has followed it with months of a 7:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and utterly pathetic offensive output. cedeno has become less and less effective with each passing month, despite being moved down to the 8th spot in the order in an effort to get him easier pitches.

all this of course it compounded by the fact that cedeno is 13th among 15 qualified nl shortstops in fielding percentage at .962 and has posted a range factor of just 4.14, 27th among nl shortstops -- indeed is so questionable defensively that some suggest moving him to second base, where he would be an even greater relative liability on offense -- and it becomes very clear that cedeno is not an everyday player for any good team. indeed, cedeno is proving that he is not a major league player at all. he can't hit; he can't run; he can't field. unless he can pitch, he should have no place in the cubs plans for 2007 and beyond. his 350-odd career plate appearances have been enough to judge.

and that is unfortunate, because the cubs don't have another shortstop of consequence in the organization. neifi perez should never have been signed for two years and then should have been designated for assignment as this year spun out of control and he woefully underperformed even his own standards -- incredibly low at the plate, high in the field, both unmet. perhaps there is some minute hope that he will be moved before august 31 as a veteran defensive substitute for a better team, but this page sincerely doubts it. neifi, it would appear at this writing, will stand as a monument to the desperate stupidity of andy macfail and jim hendry for at least another year.

beyond the major league roster, veteran retread augie ojeda and erstwhile cub ryan theriot have taken turns at the position. the 31-year-old ojeda is a better player than cedeno or neifi at this point, but is also a known quantity and nothing more than a possible defensive substitute for the cubs. theriot may be a less than capable defender as a shortstop (eight errors in 57 games, some of them at second) and nothing more than a utilityman at the highest level, but is likely nonetheless the most promising of any in-house shortstop candidate. he has hit both lefties and righties reasonably well in iowa, draws nearly as many walks as strikeouts, and is 13 of 14 stealing bases this season. theriot barely saw the field under dusty baker during his callup earlier this season -- but, with any luck, baker will be disemployed in the coming weeks and theriot given a chance to prove whether or not he can be an asset to the cubs.

at west tenn, carlos rojas has been completely ineffective with the stick, doing nothing to upset precedent. he never figures to make the majors. the same might be said of nebraska product joe simokaitis in daytona, where he's compiled a .217 average in sixty games. jonathan mota began the year in peoria but has done nothing impressive.

as one can see, the cupboard is bare at shortstop and prospects bleak. shortstop is the position this writer had hoped to see addressed in the 2006 draft by hendry and tim wilken, but nothing of the kind happened and in truth the draft class was weak at shortstop in any case. the 2007 draft will offer another opportunity, as will the trading deadline, but in the meantime shortstop seems a position best filled through free agency for this club.

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