Marlon Byrd is a boulder of a man.
That was my first observation, as I watched the new Cubs center fielder take his place along the balcony at the team's 25th annual Cubs Convention. The 6'0", 245-pound veteran outfielder has the physique of a power hitter, where once there was the slender build of a speed-oriented fourth outfielder.
Fueled by his transformed musculature, Byrd bashed a career-high 20 home runs and a career-high 43 doubles in 2009, and comes to Chicago riding three straight seasons with an OPS north of .800.
There is no question that Byrd, 32, has lost a step in center field, and will have to rely on the above-average range of Kosuke Fukudome in right field to retain his defensive value. His arm is a plus in center, making Chicago's outfield throwing a strength from left to right.
At the plate, Byrd will be penciled into the fifth spot in the order on Opening Day, but the Cubs hope either Alfonso Soriano or Geovany Soto will bump him from that position sooner than later. He will have plenty of chances to duplicate his 20 homers, as his power (which swings from gap to gap, but excludes the areas down the lines) fits perfectly into the dimensions of Wrigley Field.
However, the real determining factor in the success of Byrd's season might lie in his ability or inability to rediscover patience at the plate. He walked just 32 times in 599 plate appearances last season, 14 fewer free passes than he drew in just 462 plate appearances in 2008.
Cubs fans may salivate at the idea of Byrd posting his .380 2008 OBP and his .479 2009 SLG, but that isn't realistic, and given the choice between the two, the on-base skill would be more useful on this club. It could even make Byrd a legitimate second hitter.
The guess here is that Byrd gets occasional rest in favor of left-handed Sam Fuld against tough right-handed pitchers, and that he feels freer to take the occasional walk now that he has a starting spot locked down. Here are my 2010 projections:
- 139 games
- 527 plate appearances
- .282/.345/.459 AVG/OBP/SLG
- 17 home runs
Those numbers aren't thrilling; Marlon Byrd is not thrilling. Both the man and his projected numbers, however, are solid, and solid is something of which the Cubs could use a bit more in their outfield equation.
Watch for the rest of my 2010 Cubs profiles, which I'll continue to do throughout the rest of the off-season. Here is a selection of those already done, and a few on the way soon.