With all of the talk about the top prospects making their way to the North Side of Chicago, in conjunction with the constant Jeff Samardzija trade rumors, we nary discuss what is actually taking place with the current roster for the Chicago Cubs. Perhaps that’s for the better. While this is still a team going nowhere fast, they’ve done some good things at times this year, and have a couple of pieces in place for the future, mainly the likes of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro.
There is one player flying completely under the radar for the Cubs, though, and it’s a guy who has the chops to be a potential All Star if he gets the right type of attention for what he’s doing at the plate this season. That player is Luis Valbuena. Originally signed as a bench player who could serve as a substitute at multiple infield positions, Valbuena is more than earning his keep with this Cubs team this season.
Originally seen as an obstacle to the emergence of Mike Olt, Valbuena has represented one of the more consistent bats for the Cubs this year. The struggles of Olt have allowed Valbuena to grab a firm hold of that third base spot, as well as getting his fair share of time at second base as well, which may represent more of a potential long term spot for Valbuena.
Valbuena has quietly turned in some terrific numbers at the plate this year, slashing .284/.382/.460/.843, as well as a wRC+ of 133, all of which represent the best marks of his career at the Major League level. His strikeout rate is a touch higher than it’s been in years past, but he’s still walking at a very nice 13.7% rate. His WAR, to date, is sitting at 1.4, with plenty of time to surpass his career mark of 2.0, which he set last year.
This type of performance out of Valbuena isn’t necessarily something that should come as a large surprise. His numbers last year didn’t look great, partially thanks to a .233 BABIP, but for the most part, he’s doing what he’s always done. He’s a guy who goes out and provides very solid defense while consistently getting on base. He’s hitting for a better average than he has at any point, with BABIP coming into play for the better there, at a .359 for the year (not a completely outlandish figure). He doesn’t have great power, but still has a pretty nice looking .176 ISO thanks to his 22 extra base hits on the year.
In the short term, Luis Valbuena has always looked to be just a guy for the Cubs – a decent player who could fill in until guys like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant are ready. But Valbuena could be carving out a real spot for himself on this team moving forward. At 28, he’s a veteran guy on a Cubs team that will be getting even younger in the coming years. Without a true long term solution at second base, Valbuena is a guy who could continue to hold down that spot even as these impact prospects began to ply their trade at the Major League level.
If not, he could be a decent trade piece at the deadline. But with the Cubs getting ready to turn a corner, Valbuena seems to be the type of guy you want on your roster. Even if he’s not starting, a situation he may not be comfortable with at this point, he’s a first guy off the bench type who can play multiple infield positions and provide some pop off the bench. Those guys have value, especially on teams that need depth, like the Cubs.