Spring training previews continue as pitchers and catchers report for the Chicago Cubs on Thursday. Today we examine the outfield.
Moved on: Justin Ruggiano, Ryan Kalish
There shouldn’t be a lot of drama in the outfield during spring training as roles already are pretty well defined. Soler is the clear starter in right field, Fowler is in center while Denorfia and Coghlan should split time in left field. Denorfia can also spell Soler in right if the Cubs want to keep a right-handed bat in the lineup when Soler has the day off or needs a breather.
Some might still be wondering why the Cubs gave backup Sweeney a two-year deal before last season. He has value but he’s been injury-plagued. One good thing about the left-handed Sweeney is he can provide a more than adequate at-bat against left-handed pitching. Having said that, the energetic Szczur is a better defender, which could come in handy late in games, but he’ll have trouble finding a roster spot unless Sweeney is elsewhere on opening day. With Alcantara’s ability to play the outfield, if needed, it doesn’t leave much room for a surprise player to emerge this spring. And with both Fowler and Alcantara being switch hitters manager Joe Maddon has tons of flexibility. The Cubs' 2012 top pick, Albert Almora, will get a long look this spring, but still needs minor league seasoning.
Lake’s fall from grace, after a nice start to his career in 2013, is a reminder that young players sometimes have that initial burst before the league catches up to them. Soler is/was a much better prospect than Lake coming into the league and already has displayed an understanding of the strike zone that Lake is still trying to find. It would be a major upset if Lake somehow made the team while Soler should improve off a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio from his time in the majors last season. With a methodical ascent to the Cubs, partly due to injuries, there is no reason to believe Soler shouldn’t take off. He has five-tool ability, some experience under his belt and no one looking over his shoulder.
Also of interest will be watching Fowler, who is in a free-agent year, and Coghlan following his return to form last season. Both should be hungry -- Fowler to hit a payday next winter and Coghlan because he knows the opportunities are fleeting when things don’t go right. He cherished a chance last season and took advantage of it, posting a solid .352 on-base percentage.
All in all, the Cubs outfield has the potential to be a mix of all things including power and some speed. But more important than anything is all three positions have players with the ability to get on base better than anyone the Cubs have thrown out there over the past few years. Even newcomer Denorfia brings a career .331 on-base percentage as a role player. That ability will increase the Cubs' run-scoring chances no matter what home run totals they put up out there. Simply put, the outfield is much better for that reason alone, but still isn't a complete product just yet.