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Rookie Watkins merits a look with Cubs

8/21/2013

CHICAGO -- For a team desperately trying to get on base more, why aren't the Chicago Cubs considering playing rookie Logan Watkins more down the stretch?

Watkins, a 21st-round draft pick in 2008, has played six years in the Cubs minor league system at second base, moving up each year. At each stop he's proven he can get on base. His career on-base percentage in the minors is .365. It would be interesting to see if he can translate that ability to the major leagues. There's just one problem: The Cubs have an everyday player at his position in Darwin Barney.

"It's going to be hard to get him any at-bats to see anything," manager Dale Sveum said. "Barney is our everyday second baseman. He'll probably get a few days off the rest of the season. So it's one of those things, right now, we don't have any place to play him."

But the Cubs could make a place for him. They could sit the .218-hitting Barney more or move him to shortstop for a few games and let Starlin Castro sit a few more days. While Brian Bogusevic, Junior Lake and even Donnie Murphy are getting their opportunities, why not Watkins? Especially considering his strength is the Cubs' weakness.

"I don't know what their plan is for me," Watkins said. "We'll see. Everyone is telling me to take this as a learning experience. Obviously, I've never pinch-hit before so that's something I'm learning how to do."

The Cubs probably don't have high hopes for Watkins in terms of being a starter or he would playing every day either for the Cubs or Triple-A Iowa. Maybe they envision him, at best, as a bench player so learning that role now is the plan. But Lake wasn't considered a major prospect, at least outside the organization, and he's produced since being recalled. If Watkins is going to show his strength -- getting on base -- then a pinch-hitting role is the last place that will happen.

"We had guys on base and I let two strikes get by me," Watkins said of a recent at-bat. "For me that's OK but in that pinch-hit situation I learned I have to be aggressive. So in some other at-bats I've swung at some pitches I normally would not have. So I'm a little out of my routine and strategy right now. I have like 17 plate appearances so numbers don't mean a lot to me. I'm just learning a lot."

Watkins had a .383 on-base percentage at Double-A Tennessee last season, but that dropped to .333 this year in Iowa before he was recalled. But in reality that on-base percentage might be the best work of his minor league career considering he struggled for the first time at the plate.

"I hit leadoff for the first time in my career, so it was a little different," he said. "I didn't have a great year."

Yet even with a .243 batting average, his on-base percentage was a 100 points higher. That's a worthy statistic. He was struggling yet still taking his walks with 52 at the time of his promotion to the Cubs. He didn't panic and instead let the game come to him. That's something the Cubs could use.

"That's always been a strength of mine," Watkins said. "Seeing pitches and getting on."

For all we know the smaller Watkins will be overmatched in an everyday role, but when a player continues to show an ability at every level of baseball it would be silly not to see if he can do it at the highest level.

Play Watkins and find out what he can do. What do the Cubs have to lose?