Fun lineup decisions face Renteria soon

Don't count on seeing Javier Baez in the second spot in the lineup for the long term. Brian Kersey/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Wouldn't it be fun to be the manager of the Chicago Cubs in the coming years? Nothing is for certain but at the very least Rick Renteria will be able to pencil in a starting nine that could do a lot of damage.

The prospects who are here now, and the ones on their way soon, are going to get a good chance to prove themselves.

"Now that they're up here, it's easier to see how it all fits together," team president Theo Epstein said recently of the current crop of big leaguers.

So how will it all fit together? If Jorge Soler makes it to the Cubs before year’s end, as expected, and Kris Bryant sometime next year, Renteria will have some decisions to make. Let's start at the top.

Javier Baez is not going to be the No. 2 hitter and Starlin Castro isn't going to bat fourth. That much we know.

"There are times you put hitters in the 2 or 3 hole that are probably swinging the bat appropriate to those slots at that particular time," Renteria said recently. "That doesn't mean they are long term [2], 3 or 4 hitters."

Renteria went on to say Castro was the most "logical person to fall into that spot" when he was moved to cleanup earlier in the season. At No. 2 right now, Baez is simply being insulated by the guys hitting behind him including No. 3 hitter Anthony Rizzo.

"Because he's 21 years old and in the big leagues for the first time," Renteria said of Baez batting second instead of fourth.

So when everyone's feet are wet, Renteria will undoubtedly move things around. Unless Chris Coghlan returns in the leadoff role, the likely top two in the order are Arismendy Alcantara and Castro. The Cubs won't need or want Castro to be the old school, classic No. 2 hitter who can handle the bat. They'll want him to get on base, in his case via hits. That will set the table for what's to come.

"Is that possible? Sure it is," Renteria said of Alcantara and Castro batting 1-2. "It's not something that's out of the realm of reality. As we start to understand more and more how their skill sets play out and how they develop, it will give us a better idea in the future what that lineup will look like."

Renteria doesn't want to play the "lineup game" too much, but the rest of us can. He's dealing with the day to day, so getting some long-term commitment out of him isn't realistic or even necessary. Anyway, let's assume Alcantara and Castro go first and second in the lineup -- though some might think Rizzo could be a good choice for No. 2 considering he's most likely to take a walk and would give the Cubs a righty/lefty combination at the top. But let's keep things simple for now.

After Alcantara and Castro, Rizzo could stay at No. 3. His walks will come in handy with Bryant up after him. Baez might seem like a cleanup hitter, but Bryant was born for the role.

"He's got the raw natural power of a true 4 hitter," Renteria said of Baez.

So does Bryant.

Baez might fit well hitting fifth, putting Soler sixth. Baez is most likely to go outside the zone with his swing, so having him sandwiched between Bryant and Soler might get him better pitches rather than batting him lower. Soler is naturally more disciplined so he might need less protection. If Coghlan is still around then, he and catcher Welington Castillo could bat 7 and 8 depending on how the Cubs want to mix the lefty/righty combination at that point. How does this starting eight look assuming Coghlan and Castillo are back?

1. Alcantara CF

2. Castro SS

3. Rizzo 1B

4. Bryant 3B

5. Baez 2B

6. Soler RF

7. Coghlan LF

8. Castillo C

Again, thinking outside the box, Rizzo could move up to No. 2 with Castro dropping below the top four. Or maybe Castro leads off and Alcantara moves down. In that lineup, Baez seems destined to bat No. 5 or No. 6. It's way premature but that's the fun Renteria has coming his way. He gets to play fantasy baseball with a young, athletic team.

"In the end, time will tell us where they actually fit in with their skill set," Renteria said.

If we include 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber or recently acquired infielder Addison Russell to the mix, it complicates things even more. One slugger will be batting low in the order. Not all will make it long term but all will get their shot.

Renteria has good problems coming his way.