The Chicago Cubs lost another member of their organization on Tuesday. Their 2012 Minor League Player of the Year announced that he was leaving to sign with the Detroit Tigers.
Watkins played in 58 games with the big league club in 2013-14 and collected a .233/.269/.301 slash line with a .569 OPS. He played all four infield and all three outfield positions during his career as well.
Detroit has also signed veteran second baseman Omar Infante to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training.
This move shouldn’t be surprising for Cubs fans. Following the Cubs World Series victory, Watkins elected to test free agency than play another year in Iowa. A player of his caliber certainly deserves a shot at an everyday role.
Unfortunately for him, the organization that drafted him in 2012 hit their growth spurt ahead of schedule. Now, the Cubs are simply too deep for any playing time in the near future.
Too much depth?
The team’s depth was a major contributing factor to landing Aroldis Chapman before last year’s trade deadline. Many armchairs GM’s saw trading Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, and Rashad Crawford as over-valuing Chapman’s arm.
Even if that premise can be proved statistically, that doesn’t change the fact that those players weren’t going to see much playing time in the near future.
As we saw from Tommy La Stella’s mysterious absence in the latter half of last season, players want to play. One simply can’t expect to keep a stockpile of talent forever. Eventually, they all find their way to the field.
What this means for the Cubs
By letting Watkins walk, the Cubs are voicing their confidence in the Addison Russell – Javy Baez tandem to lead the infield in the future. Ben Zobrist will still be in the infield rotation, but his purpose on the team is to mentor the dynamic duo. Cubs fans should expect to see Zobrist play left field more often in 2017. That way Russell and Baez can work on their double play chemistry.
The Cubs haven’t completely sold the farm of middle infielders either. Ian Happ is set to take over the No. 1 prospect in the Cubs organization title once Willson Contreras is no longer eligible. Happ has drawn comparisons to both Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber in terms of offensive capabilities.
The switch-hitting second baseman was scouted as someone who can “flash power at times and hit for a high average and high on-base percentage with above average speed”. Last season, Happ hit .262/.415/.733 with eight home runs and 31 RBI for Double-A Tennessee.