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23 for ’23: What is the Cubs’ plan at third base?

1 year agoTony Andracki

Between position battles, roster additions and new rules, there are plenty of questions surrounding the 2023 Cubs. We attempt to provide answers for 23 of the most intriguing questions heading into the season.

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs entered Spring Training with stable situations all around the diamond and essentially only third base up for grabs.

That will change if Seiya Suzuki (oblique) won’t be ready by Opening Day, but third base remains one of the most intriguing position battles this spring.

“Third base is probably the spot where there’s more options,” David Ross said at the beginning of camp. “Nobody’s locked that job down yet.”

The list of options runs at least six deep: Patrick Wisdom, Nick Madrigal, Christopher Morel, Zach McKinstry, Edwin Ríos and Miles Mastrobuoni.

Mastrobuoni is more of a middle infielder and outfielder, but he has played third in the minors in the past. The Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Rays in November and the left-handed-hitting utility player still has a minor league option remaining, so a possible scenario is he begins the season with Triple-A Iowa.

The same might be true for Morel, who figures to be a big part of the organization’s future and would benefit from playing everyday in the minors rather than sporadically in Chicago. The 23-year-old performed well as a rookie last season (.741 OPS, 16 homers, 10 steals) but he’s only played 10 games at the Triple-A level and went straight from Double-A to the majors last year.

That leaves McKinstry and Ríos — a pair of left-handed hitters who came up in the Dodgers organization — plus Madrigal and Wisdom. The Cubs will likely put together a third base combination from that group for Opening Day.

“As long as everybody stays healthy, it’s one of those things we’ll try to find the right mix and who complements each other well, make sure the buy-in’s real and go from there,” Ross said. 

Ríos was a late addition to the Cubs roster, signing a big-league deal with the team on Feb. 17 after he parted ways with the Dodgers in the fall. He plays mostly corner infield and could be in the DH mix as well. 

In parts of four seasons in L.A., Ríos showed his power (20 homers in 260 at-bats, .492 slugging percentage) but had some swing-and-miss issues and hit only .219 with a .299 on-base percentage. 

The 28-year-old never got a chance for regular playing time with the Dodgers but could make the most of his opportunity with the Cubs. He has some impressive minor league numbers, including 31 homers and a .270/.340/.575 slash line (.915 OPS) in Triple-A in 2019.

Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly is familiar with Ríos from his time working in the Dodgers system.

“Eddy has some of the most raw power that you’ll see, especially from the left side,” Kelly said. “He has a really good swing. He does things the right way and he just hits it incredibly hard.”

McKinstry, 27, came to the Cubs in the Chris Martin trade at the deadline last summer. Like Ríos, he didn’t get much of an opportunity for regular playing time with the Dodgers and struggled to find his footing in his first foray with the Cubs (.206 AVG, .633 OPS in 47 games). 

But he hit .335 in Triple-A last season in the Dodgers organization and represents a versatile option for the Cubs both positionally (he can play all over the diamond) and with a skillset that includes some pop from the left side and solid speed.

He is out of minor league options but the Cubs liked McKinstry enough to acquire him straight up for a valuable reliever less than a year ago so it’d be hard to see them cut ties with him already.

Madrigal is making the switch from second base, a position he’s played for his entire professional career prior to this year. Ross has been impressed with his defense at third base early in Spring Training as Madrigal continues to get reps.

He also represents an intriguing offensive option for this team as a high-contact bat who can handle velocity and also has some experience leading off.

Madrigal was the No. 4 pick in the draft in 2018 (20 picks before Nico Hoerner) and was ranked as the No. 40 prospect in the game entering 2021 by Baseball America. He’s been plagued with injuries — including a hamstring tear that required surgery in 2021 — and will only turn 26 on Sunday.

In his first season with the Cubs last year, Madrigal hit .249 with a .588 OPS but the injury bug continued and he admitted the hamstring tear was still a factor throughout 2022.

“I worked extremely hard with some guys from the training staff to nutrition to the way I run,” he said. “From top to bottom, I really dove into it and also having some more time to let my hamstring heal up. I think that was big. 

“It was a little bit tender last year and I was trying to push through it and it just wasn’t there. I feel like with a little bit more time, the hamstring’s feeling a lot better.”

Wisdom has held down the fort at third base for most of the last two seasons after bursting on the scene in 2021 by setting a Cubs rookie record with 28 homers. He followed that up with 25 blasts last year (which led the team) and 66 RBI. 

After posting a 2.2 WAR in 106 games in 2021, he wasn’t able to match the same production last year (0.9 WAR in 134 games). Some of that could be attributed to a defensive regression but the Cubs feel like they’ve righted the ship in that area.

“Wis had a little bit of a step back last year but I think we identified some of the issues there and he’s got a lot of skills over there that can be great for us,” Ross said.

Wisdom is also in the right field mix until Suzuki returns, which could open up even more time at third base. He can play first base and factor in the DH picture, too.

Wisdom will be in the third base conversation in some capacity to open the season and the Cubs will use the rest of the spring to determine who else joins the mix alongside him.

23 for ’23 series

What will the Cubs’ new era at catcher look like?
What is the Cubs’ plan at third base?
Who steps up in the wake of the Seiya Suzuki injury?
What role will Christopher Morel have on the 2023 Cubs?
Who will win the Cubs’ 5th starter spot?
Where does Nick Madrigal fit on the roster?
Who will close for the Cubs?
What kind of impact will Dansby Swanson have in his first season in Chicago?

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