2009 Chicago Cubbies Season Outlook : Kosuke Fukudome

straitpinkieCorrespondent IMarch 11, 2009

Next up in our Cubbies Season Outlook series is the left-handed half of the Cubs’ center field platoon, Kosuke Fukudome.

Kosuke played right field almost exclusively in his “rookie” season as a 30-year old, but the combination of Jim Edmonds’ departure, Felix Pie’s fall from grace, and the signing of Milton Bradley has moved Kosuke into center field.

Fukudome played right field in Wrigley Field as well as I can imagine any first-year player doing, and he is better suited to play right with his strong arm. However, I have little doubts he will be a success—at least in the field.

Anyway, you can be sure he will still get his innings in right, because Bradley is going to need plenty of days off, even if he is healthy.

A lot has been said about Fukudome’s awful second half at the plate last year and what it possibly means for his future on this side of Pacific and in the Cubs organization. His terrible second half is what made the Cubs feel like it was necessary to go after Bradley.

Everybody remembers how things started off with a bang. His first game against the Brewers when he batted 3-3 with a game-tying homer in the ninth off of Eric Gagne sent him immediately into Cub lore. He batted 1.000 in one March game, .305 in April, .293 in May, .264 in June, .236 in July, .193 in August, and .178 in September.

Reasons for his struggles have been explored by basically everybody. I’ve heard about the overwhelming nature of assimilating into a new culture, loneliness, a longer season, fatigue, and that pitchers learned how to approach him. You can make an argument for each of those, and that’s just the thing; I think every little thing just added up to what happened.

Kosuke strikes me as the type that really puts a lot of pressure on himself, and I think that hurt him as things tanked last year.

At the same time, I think that trait will help him this offseason. I think he’s going to show dramatic improvement this season and be a very valuable part of this team. Even if there never is an everyday position available, the somewhat fragile nature of the corner outfielders (Bradley and Alfonso Soriano) will make it so that there are plenty of AB’s and innings in the field to go around (expect to see him as a late-inning right field replacement often).

Also, I think I would fail as a Cub writer to not mention the positive impact Fukudome had on last year’s team. His patience at the plate was nothing short of contagious.

Fukudome never stopped making pitchers work, even when pitchers were spinning him in circles with off-speed stuff. Fukudome’s presence played a big role for the Cubs, going from a good team to the best in the National League.

Recent word from the Cubs camp is that Fukudome is looking good and on track to bat in the second spot when he’s in the lineup: “He looks wonderful, really in good shape,” manager Lou Piniella said. “I told him we’re holding a spot for him and we’ll put him out in center field. We’re going to try him in the No. 2 hole in the lineup.”

Fukudome was never best suited for the No. 5 hole. He doesn’t have a great deal of power and Milton Bradley makes it so that there is no need to try to fit him there.

If he is closer to his April/May form than his August/September form, I think he’s perfect for that spot. He’s got a little bit of power, a little bit of speed, and handles the bat well. Stick him between Soriano and Derrek Lee, and he’ll thrive.

Kosuke is not an all-star kind of player, he’s probably not worth the $48 million over four years he’s being paid, but I think he will be a very serviceable player this season. Here’s what I project: