Jesse Rogers previews the Cubs by position in the days leading up to pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training on Sunday.
The Chicago Cubs outfield of 2013 isn’t exactly the sexiest part of the team. There are holdovers and newcomers, but none are considered the next best thing on the horizon. Here’s a look at the outfield:
David DeJesus, CF: Ticketed for center field, DeJesus is certainly reliable, but not spectacular. He’s still considered a transition player for the Cubs while Brett Jackson is figuring things out in the minors. The best thing about DeJesus at the plate is his ability to get on base despite not being much of a power threat. His 61 walks last season helped contribute to his 76 runs scored, second only to Starlin Castro on the team. It’s not a Hall of Fame stat, but any player with less than 10 home runs (he had nine) and more than 500 at-bats needs to be contributing in some way. A solid center field and a repeat of his .350 on-base percentage is how DeJesus can accomplish that.
Alfonso Soriano, LF: Yes, he’s still here as the lone holdover from a Cubs era gone by. There’s little doubt Soriano had a very nice year in 2012, but it still wasn’t enough to get him moved out of town. Of course, his no-trade clause had something to do with that as he turned down a deal to the eventual world champions due to the “cold weather in San Francisco.” He’s simply not in the Cubs’ future plans, but then again the team doesn’t have a left fielder pushing for his playing time. Maybe that’s a reason the Cubs won’t move him and pick up all of his salary. After all, there is a season to be played now, and the team can’t afford to give up his 32 home runs and 108 RBIs without some benefit from his replacement. It’s anyone’s guess what kind of year he’ll have or when -- or if -- he’ll be traded.
Nate Schierholtz/Scott Hairston RF: General manager Jed Hoyer and president Theo Epstein made it known they aren’t opposed to a platoon if that’s simply the best option for the team and that’s where Schierholtz comes in. He’s never proven himself as an every day starter, but his effectiveness against right-handed pitching is evident. His on-base percentage jumped from .206 against lefties to .360 against righties last season. Like most of the outfield, Schierholtz is considered a transition player.
Hairston wasn’t a bad pickup, considering the alternative was a platoon with two unproven players (Schierholtz/Dave Sappelt). Hairston’s 2012 numbers look good on paper -- 20 HR, 57 RBIs in 377 at-bats -- but playing every day for a full season might bring them down to a less noticeable level. His best situation might be a platoon, providing a threat off the bench when he’s not starting. But if Schierholtz isn’t producing, Hairston does have the numbers against both righties and lefties to take over the job. He had three homers in a pinch-hitting role last season.
The bench: It’s unclear who fills out the outfield. It looked like Sappelt had a job there until the late offseason signing of Hairston, and the speedy Tony Campana is no guarantee either. Non-roster invitee Brent Lillibridge might have the best opportunity as his experience and ability to play several positions make him somewhat attractive.
OUTLOOK: The outfield is the one place that seems to be in a holding pattern until prospects are ready. There’s a good chance when they are that none of the current starters or even bench players will be on the team -- save possibly Hairston in a pinch-hitting role. Jackson is closer after a cup of coffee last season while top prospects such as Jorge Soler and Albert Almora are still climbing the ladder. Outifeld won’t be an area of strength for the Cubs either on offense or defense unless Soriano repeats his year -- no guarantee there -- while others surprise.