6th spot doesn't suit 'veteran' CF Alcantara

CHICAGO -- He was the first to come up among the top Chicago Cubs prospects, so maybe it makes sense that Arismendy Alcantara is the first to experience an extended slump, as his batting average (.208) and on-base percentage (.277) have taken a nosedive.

The good news is his defense in center field has been good, especially considering the former infielder's lack of playing time in the outfield before a few months ago.

"He looks like a veteran out there," a National League scout said recently. "I saw Junior Lake [another former infielder] when he first came up, and Alcantara is much further along."

Alcantara is especially good at getting quick jumps and reading balls correctly, which can be easier to learn in center than in right or left. But the ball hit right at the center fielder is the toughest one, and Alcantara hasn't looked like a rookie handling those. He has made a few questionable throws allowing runners to advance a base, but that's a fixable mistake.

Now comes the bad news. His slump coincided with being moved from the top of the order to No. 6.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, in 12 games batting sixth in the order -- before returning to the leadoff spot on Monday -- Alcantara hit .159. His walk percentage was cut in half and his line-drive percentage went from 19.4 to 6.3. Was this due to being dropped in the order, the league getting a scouting report on him or simply a slump with a small sample size? It's probably a little bit of everything, but a further look inside the numbers might indicate a player experiencing some anxiousness.

For one thing, he's chasing more pitches outside the strike zone: 26 percent batting first or second, compared with 33 percent batting sixth. Even more interesting is that he used to foul off those pitches more. His foul percentage on pitches outside the zone was 41 percent batting No. 1 or 2, and that's dropped to 22 percent hitting sixth.

Additionally, while batting sixth he is 1-for-23 (.043) with 13 strikeouts when the count gets to two strikes. Hitting first or second, Alcantara is hitting a respectable .150 with two strikes. For a rookie, that's not bad considering the league average is .177.

The bottom line is Alcantara simply had more success hitting at the top of the order, although he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his return to the leadoff spot Monday against the New York Mets.

But he did draw a walk, just his fourth of the month. It's unclear what manager Rick Renteria is thinking moving into the final six weeks of the season, as Monday's leadoff role could have been a one-day thing to give Chris Coghlan a breather, or it could be a sign that Alcantara will get more time at the top.

But there's no doubt it's the spot where he's had the most success in his short career.