Three days after he considered moving Alfonso Soriano down the Cubs' lineup, Lou Piniella said that Soriano could still be the lead-off hitter. In this lineup, he would be followed by Aaron Miles, Derrek Lee, Milton Bradley, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Geovany Soto and Ryan Theriot on the days Miles is at second base and Fukudome is in center.
Here is more from the CCO Spring Training Preview, including PECOTA predictions, on the last Friday without baseball.
The Cubs are banking on Mike Fontenot taking the next step in his development after a very promising first full season at the big league level. Fontenot came up with several big hits for the Cubs last season and was Lou Piniella's most reliable left-handed bat off the bench.
Fontenot had a .305 average, a .395 OBP, and a .514 SLG in 119 games. Also, in 243 at bats, he hit nine home runs and 22 doubles.
Piniella reportedly wanted a way to find more at bats for "Little Fontenot," and he will compete for the Cubs starting second base job this spring with Aaron Miles. XM Radio's Kevin Kennedy has predicted time and time again that if Fontenot received regular playing time he would hit 20 home runs a year.
In all likelihood, Fontenot will split time with Miles, and he is penciled in as a backup for Ramirez at third base.
Fontenot thrived in the second half last year (.360/.435/.540/.975) and was one of the few players that hit in September (.366/.471/.439/.910 in 17 of the Cubs 24 games).
He showed improvement from 2007 to 2008, and for the Cubs to win their third division crown in 2009, they will need "Little Babe Ruth" to pickup where he left off last year.
PECOTA's projection for Fontenot in 2009: .278/.356/.440/10/47 in 409 at bats
Micah Hoffpauir has become a fan favorite in his short stint with the big league club. Hoffpauir can hit but he is a natural first baseman. So, with Lee at first, the Cubs have struggled to find playing time for Hoffpauir. He has learned to play both corner spots in the outfield and that will help him make the team out of Spring Training.
Piniella has stated that Daryle Ward's old job is Hoffpauir's to lose this spring. As the Cubs' roster is currently constructed, they are counting on Hoffpauir being their power threat off the bench and primarily a backup to Lee, who will receive more off days this season.
However, if the Cubs add a right-handed bat that can backup Lee and Ramirez, Hoffpauir may have to start the year in Iowa.
Hoffpauir's line in limited playing time last season: .342/.400/.534/.934/2/8 with eight doubles in 33 games (73 at-bats).
PECOTA's projection for Hoffpauir in 2009: .261/.327/.489/11/36 in 94 at bats
After a breakout season in 2005, a broken wrist in 2006, and consecutive seasons with declining power numbers, the Cubs need Lee to drive the ball into the seats not into double plays.
He can still first base and is arguable the best defensive first baseman in the league alongside Albert Pujols. Defense is not his problem.
The Cubs need Lee to have a bounce back season offensively. Lee hit .291 with a .361 OBP last season (.462 SLG, .823 OPS), He also had 20 home runs, 41 doubles, and 90 RBI in 155 games (623 at bats).
Unfortunately for the Cubs, he struggled mightily in the second half.
Lee hit only five of his 20 home runs after the break with 15 doubles and 34 RBI (.266/.343/.390/.733).
The Cubs have won back-to-back titles without huge seasons from 'The Big Three.' For Lou Piniella's crew to get another shot in October, Lee must help lead the way.
PECOTA's projection for Lee in 2009: .289/.369/.464/20/91
Another former Cardinal has crossed the lines. This time it is a scrappy middle infielder that Tony LaRussa did not want to lose. Miles seemed to always step up in big spots for the Cardinals and now it is time for him to do the same for the Cubs.
Miles hit .317 with a .355 OBP last year for St. Louis with 15 doubles and four home runs in 134 games (379 at bats). Miles is penciled in as one of the backups to Ramirez and will receive playing time at short and second base.
He is a ballplayer and, he will give Piniella options on a daily basis. If he gives the same effort on a daily basis as he did with the Cardinals, he should become a fan favorite.
PECOTA's projection for Miles in 2009: .280/.327/.489/1/29
Other than Carlos Zambrano, Ramilrez is the longest tenured Cub on the roster. Ramirez is coming off another solid season and recorded a career high .380 OBP as part of this statline: .289/.380/.518/.898 with 27 home runs and 44 doubles in 149 games (554 at bats).
For the first time since 2003, his OPS dropped below .900 and his SLG was the lowest since 2003.
Ramirez, like Lee, had a power decline in the second half and hit only 10 home runs after the break. Piniella will need more consistency from Ramirez this season.
As the roster is currently constructed, Aramis Ramirez is one of the most important players on the team. With Mark DeRosa in Cleveland, the Cubs do not have a legitimate backup to replace Ramirez if he is lost for an extended period of time.
PECOTA's projection for Ramirez in 2009: .288/.363/.509/27/104
Theriot is coming off his first full season as the Cubs starting shortstop. And what solid season it was! Theriot hit .307 with a .387 OBP in 149 games (580 at bats). Theriot hit for little, if no power, as only 24 of his 178 hits were extra-base hits.
Depending on Piniella's mood and which day he is asked, Theriot could either hit first, second, or eighth. Theriot figures to get most of the playing time at short, and like many of the Cubs' young players, he must take the next step in his development.
After posting his best line of the year in July (.333/.395/.407/.802), Theriot slowed down as the year wore on. Theriot hit only .281 with a .384 OBP in August with only two doubles. In September, he hit .278 with a .360 OBP and just a single double.
Regardless of where Theriot ends up hitting, he must continue to get on base and improve his baserunning.
PECOTA's projection for Theriot in 2009: .283/.359/.350/1/37
The Cubs' biggest offseason acquisition enters camp with a lot of questions. As Bradley has correctly reminded the media, the past is the past and should be left there.
The only thing the Cubs must concern themselves with is keeping Bradley healthy and on the field. If they do, Milton Bradley has the ability to make the Cubs offense much better.
Bradley is coming off a career year with a remarkable line of .321/.436/.563/.999 with 22 home runs and 32 doubles in 126 games. However, the majority of his games was spent as the Rangers' DH (99) and his lack of games in the field was a red flag for most teams during the offseason.
Bradley courted the Cubs and wants to be in Chicago. Now it is his job, with help from Piniella, to stay healthy and on the field.
PECOTA's projection for Bradley in 2009: .294/.402/.525/21/75 in 490 at-bats
Fox can hit. That and his heart have never been the problem. It is his defense that leaves more than a little to be desired. Fox was moved from behind the plate two years ago and has tried to learn how to play the corner outfield spots and first base.
Fox struggled last season at Iowa (.222/.242/.479 with 10 doubles and 6 home runs in 29 games) and was sent down to Double-A. While there, he found his stroke (.307/.397/.580/.977 with 25 home runs and 29 doubles in 105 games) and dominated in Winter Ball.
Fox is willing to do what it takes to make the team and has been taking ground balls at third this spring.
The Cubs still do not have a place for Fox to play unless he picks up third base rather quickly and Jim Hendry does not make another move. Fox will start the year in Iowa and, barring injury, will not figure into the Cubs' plans this season.
Fukudome is arguably one of the most important players going into the season. Fukudome set Chicago on fire last April and May and launched "Fukudomania." But as the season wore on, Fukudome lost all confidence and was just plain awful at the plate.
Fukudome did not let his offense affect his defense, and if he could have hit the ball, he would have been in line for a Gold Glove.
He will not join the Cubs this spring until Team Japan is eliminated or the end of the tournament. The Cubs will be monitoring him in the WBC. Reportedly they are hoping Fukudome is able to rebuild his confidence while playing for his country.
The Cubs need the player that caused "Fukodomania" (.279/.383/.408 with seven home runs, 17 doubles, two triples in 90 games before the break). They do not need the one they received in the second half (.217/.314/.326/.639 with 3 home runs, eight doubles and a triple).
PECOTA's projection for Fukudome in 2009: .286/.386/.439/10/51
Despite what Phil Rogers may think, barring injury, Fuld will be the starting at center field for the Iowa Cubs on Opening Day. He will not be on the Cubs' 25-man roster.
Fuld will battle for a spot on the Cubs' bench, but with Reed Johnson, Fukodome, and Joey Gathright in front of him, Fuld will have to do more than just try to steal the centerfield job.
Hendry has been rumored to be interested in Gathright for years, and after the Royals non-tendered him, Hendry was finally able to add Gathright to his roster.
Gathright figures to be the Cubs' fifth outfielder when the season begins and should see playing time in all three outfield spots. Piniella has desired flexibility and speed on his roster since he signed on with the Cubs. Gathright will provide both.
Gathright can run like the wind and will help defensively late in games. But Gathright comes up short offensively. In 105 games for the Royals last season, he hit only .254 with a .311 OBP and a .272 SLG.
PECOTA's projection for Gathright in 2009: .266/.337/.312/0/15
Johnson became a fan-favorite in his first year with the Cubs and the best compliment that can be given to Johnson is he is 'a ballplayer'. Johnson did his job last season and figures to have a bigger role on the team this year.
The Cubs want Johnson and Fukodome to platoon in center this year. But, if Fukudome struggles, Johnson's playing time will increase. Johnson lost around 15 pounds this offseason preparing for more playing time.
Johnson hit .303 with a .358 OBP and a .420 SLG in 109 games (333 at bats). He also had 21 doubles and 6 home runs last year. Johnson seemed to always be right in the middle of the action, either in the field or at the plate.
Johnson will receive time at all three outfield spots this spring, and on days he is not starting, he should be in the mix for a late-inning defensive replacement when the season begins.
PECOTA's projection for Johnson in 2009: .276/.337/.405/7/42 in 377 at-bats
Robnett was acquired from the Oakland A's on February 2 along with Justin Sellers for Michael Wuertz. Robnett was the first-round pick of the A's in 2004 (26th overall) and spent most of 2008 in Triple-A (.236/.307/.351/.658).
Before the 2008 season, Robnett was the A's 15th-best prospect according to Baseball America (11th in 2007). Baseball America described his raw power as his best tool with quick hands and powerful forearms.
Baseball Americadescribed his defense as limited to corner outfield spots due to poor routes, reads, and jumps despite good speed and above average arm strength.
Robnett should begin the year with the Iowa Cubs.
The Cubs claimed Brad Snyder off waivers from the Cleveland Indians last September. Snyder was the Indians first-round pick in 2003 (18th overall), and he could give the Cubs another left-handed bat off the bench, but Hoffpauir will have to play his way off the team before that would happen.
Snyder has the tools to be a good right fielder. He has outstanding arm strength plus bat speed and above average power. But Snyder has little-to-no plate discipline. He struck out 158 times in 523 at bats in Double-A in 2006 and 123 times in 411 at-bats in Triple-A last season.
The Indians tried to change his approach at the plate, but was unsuccessful. Snyder is out of options and, barring injury, will have a hard time making the team.
Will Alfonso Soriano be the Cubs' leadoff man come Opening Day? The answer to that question depends on what time of day it is. Lou Piniella likes Soriano at the top of the lineup, and the Cubs win games with him a top the order.
But his power would likely benefit the Cubs if he hit further down in the lineup. Plus, they could make up for his free-swinging ways a little better, like the Phillies and Ryan Howard.
More important than where Soriano hits in the Cubs lineup is whether he can stay healthy for an entire season.
While last year's six-week absence was not Soriano's fault, his legs have not been "right" since his arrival to the Cubs. Reportedly, his legs feel better than they have in a couple of years after he spent the winter working with Aramis Ramirez.
Soriano's line from 2008: .280/.344/.532/.876/29/75 in 109 games (453 at bats)
Soriano is a dynamic player, and when he is on one of his patient streaks, he can carry a team for a week at a time. The Cubs need Alfonso Soriano to show up everyday, catch the ball, and not hop his way onto the DL this year.
PECOTA's projection for Soriano in 2009: .281/.348/.538/38/119
Coming Soon: "Storylines of the Spring....The NRI's"
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