MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon is looking for a No.2 hitter. With Dexter Fowler slated to lead off and power/RBI guys like Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant (when he's in the majors) filling the middle of the order there's an opening for another player that can get on base to "feed" those guys, according to Maddon.
"Who's hitting second is the mystery man," the manager said.
Could it be shortstop Starlin Castro?
"I like No. 4," Castro said Wednesday. "A lot of guys are in scoring position."
In the past, Castro has always said he doesn't care where he hits -- save No.8 -- as long as it's in the same spot in the order as much as possible. But after a season in which he had success batting cleanup he wouldn't mind staying there.
"I know how it is now," Castro said. "I like it there."
Castro hit .287 with 10 home runs and 52 RBI's in 103 games batting fourth in the lineup in 2014. He also walked 30 times for a .339 on-base average. He knows he'll see better pitches with men on base and can simply get in the batter's box thinking about driving the ball. He's a free swinger anyway. But Castro is realistic. He also knows the big boppers will probably occupy the middle of the order.
"Then No. 2," he stated. "I like second too. I think I'm a second-caliber hitter."
Castro hasn't always seemed like a prototypical No. 2 hitter though Maddon admits the role has changed. There's less "bunting the guy over" and handling the bat than there used to be. But Maddon didn't say it was Castro's job to lose or anything, admitting that he might need to walk or see a few more pitches along the way.
"I think he could, not saying that he can't," Maddon stated.
The manager was encouraged by the bases loaded walk Castro earned in Tuesday's game against the Royals calling it "progress" and feels like there's growth to be had there. But he's adamant about wanting guys on base at the top of the order.
"The whole point is to feed the guys that drive in runs," Maddon said.
Castro has a .326 career on-base percentage batting second. That's a little low. Undoubtedly, Maddon has seen those numbers but they were achieved mostly with some bad Cubs teams -- and in more recent times -- with some really bad offensive attacks. More danger in the lineup means more stress on the pitcher. Castro's numbers could go up. And Maddon was quick to point out a .320 hitter doesn't need to be walking all that much -- if Castro can get close to that kind of number.
So who would the other candidates be to hit second if not the Cubs shortstop? It won't be Javier Baez nor any of the Cubs catchers so there's really only one other choice: the left field combination of Chris Coghlan and Chris Denorfia. We know what Coghlan did last year at the top of the order -- he was on base a respectable 34 percent of the time batting leadoff. If he can simply repeat that number in the 2-hole he qualifies as a candidate. Though Denorfia is a career .331 on-base guy -- and .346 hitting leadoff -- for whatever reason his worst spot in the order is second as he only reaches 31 percent of the time. Of course, that's just looking at the numbers in a vacuum. We don't know the circumstances around when he hit there and who was hitting around him throughout his nine-year career. Denorfia won't start often anyway and Maddon is likely to adjust more than one spot when a lefty is on the mound.
Here's another wrinkle. Maddon says he likes to alternate lefties and righties throughout his lineup as much as possible which could be a vote against Coghlan batting second. The Cubs would start the game with three left-handed hitters in a row in Fowler, Coghlan and Rizzo when a righty is on the mound. With Castro batting second the lineup can be more balanced. Here's just one look using Mike Olt as the third baseman.
When Bryant comes up Maddon can adjust accordingly. And it's not like he said he has to go righty/lefty or vice versa, just that he likes to. In any case, the manager says he hasn't focused on the lineup so far but he will start to determine some roles in the final weeks of spring training.
"The two-hole is like a mystery," he said.
With Castro's first choice -- cleanup -- taken by any number of players, batting second might end up being his job. He wouldn't mind it.
"I like second," he said. "Four or two. Either one."