CHICAGO -- Leading off for the Chicago Cubs in 2015 will be Chris Coghlan. Or will it be Arismendy Alcantara? In fact, both might be considered leadoff hitters: One is for the here-and-now, and one might be for the future.
“If you’re asking me, to win a ballgame today, Coghlan would be there,” manager Rick Renteria said before the Cubs played the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday. “Do I believe Alcantara [can be] a leadoff hitter? Yes I do.”
The difference, of course, is their age and experience. This is Coghlan’s sixth season in the majors, while Alcantara is just 22 and beginning his big league career.
“Leading off is different,” Alcantara said. “Just work the count to get on base.”
As you might expect, Coghlan was a little more detailed in what a leadoff man has to do, from seeing more pitches for the hitters behind him, to wasting time in order for the pitcher, who often will have batted just before him, to get a breather.
“It’s part of the game,” Coghlan said. “You have to deal with a lot of situations.”
Coghlan’s on-base percentage this season batting first is .328, and .350 overall. That’s more than respectable considering the league average is .314. And both numbers have gone up recently, as Coghlan’s been as hot as any Cub. Alcantara has gotten on base only 24 percent of the time in the leadoff role. He’s walked six times in 89 plate appearances batting first to go along with 27 strikeouts. Overall, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is nearly 5-to-1, not exactly ideal for a leadoff man.
“That’s what 22-year-olds do in the big leagues,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “They strike out a little more than they did in the minor leagues and walk less than in the minor leagues. Over time and with experience, they get back to who they are as hitters.”
Renteria has an easy decision to make for 2015, particularly with the kind of power Alcantara is showing. Coghlan can bat first while Alcantara gets a chance to drive in runs lower in the order. But long term, Alcantara should make the ideal No. 1 hitter. His switch-hitting combined with his speed and home run ability will make for a dangerous offensive force. One to whom pitchers won’t want to throw fastballs down the middle, but one they aren’t going to want to walk, either. That’s if Alcantara makes progress mastering the strike zone, as he did at times in the minors.
“When he gets comfortable he should walk a little bit,” Epstein said.
And that’s when the Cubs have a real leadoff hitter to bat in front of plenty of power in the middle of the order. For now, it’s Coghlan’s gig. Alcantara is up next.