The Chicago Cubs spent the entire offseason looking for a young third baseman they could project for the future. Failing to acquire the prime player they were looking for, the front office signed Ian Stewart to a one-year $1.5 million contract. While Stewart has been hobbled by injuries, Luis Valbuena has laid claim to the position.
The 27-year-old Venezuelan native has been an early season surprise to some.
“He is an everyday player,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “There is obviously a little platoon going on, but I would not have a problem playing him every day. His at-bats against left handers are pure, he sees pitches. He does not swing out of the zone against left-hand pitching. Right now he is obviously an everyday player. He is one of the most productive third basemen in the game now.”
The likeable Valbuena is a lightning rod for fun and practical jokes among his teammates.
“I like to have fun with my teammates,” he said. “If you have a good time it helps take the pressure out of the game. We still take care of all the work, but you want to stay loose with all the players.”
Valbuena bounced around a bit after failing to become the star second baseman that Cleveland hoped he would become.
“I have more experience now,” Valbuena said. “I am lucky to have players like Sori (Alfonso Soriano) to help me. Now that they know me and how I play I am a more comfortable player.”
Third base and infield coach David Bell has helped Valbuena hone his skills at the hot corner.
“He is really doing a great job of learning a position that he had not had a lot of time at,” Bell said. “He is a very talented guy with good hands and quick feet. He also has a strong arm. There is no reason he can’t be an outstanding third baseman. He is doing everything he needs to do right now.”
Bell has Valbuena concentrating on playing generally deeper depending on the hitter.
“Keeping it simple for him is the key,” Bell said. “Third is a reaction position, so by paying attention to his positioning and playing deeper he can make more plays. That is what we are working on.”
Valbuena’s numbers have been beyond what the Cubs expected coming into the season. His plate discipline has been impressive with a team-high 13 walks (tied with Anthony Rizzo). Valbuena entered Tuesday’s game hitting .271 with an impressive .866 OPS -- more than earning his at-bats right now.
“I don’t worry about numbers,” he said. “I want to improve every day and earn my at-bats. The numbers will be there if I take care of what I can do.”