(MJ: I’ll be busy all day and will not have time for Marlin Maniac until the late night hours today, but luckily for you fellow Maniacs, my partner-in-crime John Herold has you covered. Today you’ll get a chance to view the next installment of the 2010 Marlin Maniac Preview and John’s sixth best position player prospect, which I won’t spoil for you. Enjoy and leave some feedback!)
We now move across the diamond to one of the more important and underrated positions in the game, third base. While the Marlins have had question marks going into spring training as to just who would start at third base every year since Miguel Cabrera was traded, this season the Marlins brass have said the player starting here is set in stone.
Starter: Jorge Cantu
Backup: Wes Helms
Backup: Jorge Jimenez
Backup: Emilio Bonifacio
Last season, it was known Cantu would start at one of the corners depending on who won the starting job out of spring training. This season, the Marlins have stated that Cantu will stay at third and that the job for first is solely between Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison with Wes Helms because the severe back up plan.
The career of Cantu has been a turbulent one. After busting into the scene as with a .344 wOBA in his first two seasons with the Devil Rays, he started to see a big drop in power and a rise in strike outs in 2006. 2007 would see him optioned to the minors and then traded to Cincinnati. The Reds, afraid of what he might command in arbitration, non-tendered him that offseason. The Marlins would pick him up on a minor league contract with a chance to contend for the starting third base job. Although he was an after thought to both Jose Castillo and Dallas McPherson (both of whom received major league deals), he would beat both of them. He rewarded the Marlins with a very good .346 wOBA and 2.9 WAR. Both his power (.204 ISO) and contact (17.7% K rate) improved towards his 2005 numbers.
2009 would see him nearly duplicating his wOBA from the previous season, posting one of .343. How he got there was quite different though. He bruised his wrist after getting hit by a Daniel Cabrera fastball the third game of the season. He constantly aggravated it throughout the year and was in noticeable pain. His power numbers regressed to just 16 HRs and a .154 ISO. However, due to the pain in his wrist, he swung the bat a lot less. He went from swinging at pitches nearly 53% of the time to only swinging his bat 45% of the time. This resulted in easily a career best BB/K of 0.58 (Career number before last season: 0.29) and OBP.
Cantu has stated this offseason that his wrist is still bothering him and might be something that effects the rest of his career. If his is true, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. If his power retrains being around the average rate (.150 ISO) that it was last year rather than that of being a power hitter (.200+), it would require him to continue to have a high BB/K in order to be an above average hitter. But if pitchers catch on to his drop in power and pound the strike zone more, this will hurt his BB/K.
All in all, you hope the offseason helped heal his wrist at least a bit and he can retain some of his old power. The projects are all also pretty similar, with Bill James being the most pessimistic (.336 wOBA) and the fans being the most optimistic (.346 wOBA). CHONE leans towards pessimism, having him at .338. Overall you’re hoping for him put up about a .340 wOBA.
Defense though is far from being pretty. Combining his poor range with his penchant for errors, his defensive numbers at third are just brutal. In 2008, he posted a -9.1 UZR/150 and last season it was absolute terrible -28.6. His career UZR/150 for the position now sits at -15.5. You have to hope the error total will go down (just a .926 fielding percentage at third), which should help his defensive numbers there greatly; nearly half of his -22.8 career runs at third come from runs given up through errors. Let’s give a nice round number and say he’s -10 at third. Combined with his average base running ability (career +0.13 EQBRR per 150 games), we something along the lines of…
Projection: 650 PA, around 1.9 WAR
Although he’s an above average bat, his defense just really, really hurts and you have to wonder if retaining him was a proper use of resources. Still, this would make him roughly an average player and you have to like his durability (he’s missed only 19 games the past two seasons). And with Jose Castillo now in Japan and Dallas McPherson still dealing with his back, the Marlins certainly made the right choice in 2008.
Should something happen to Cantu, Emilio Bonifacio will probably be first in line for a starting gig and it’s difficult to expect anything more than replacement level production. It is unlikely Wes Helms would start, and due to his .292 wOBA the past three years he likely wouldn’t be better than Bonifacio. There’s also Jorge Jimenez. A Rule 5 draft pick, he has to make our 25 man roster if he is to stay in our organization. But the front office has said he’s not in competition for a starting job, so if he makes the team it’ll be as the left handed bat off the bench. If he does, he would likely pass Bonifacio on the third base depth chart. However, his production probably won’t be much better than Bonifacio’s either. I’ll go over more on him in the coming weeks, but a preview now is that things aren’t all too pretty. And although the Marlins haven’t said a thing about Gaby playing third base, if something were to happen to Cantu there’s also the possibility of playing Gaby at third and Morrison at first. This would likely be better than the other options we have. And as Michael pointed out in the first base preview, there’s also the possibility of Hank Blalock joining our bench. But even though he was a third baseman in the past, his defense there now is probably too bad for him to be an option if he were to join the Fish.