Chicago Cubs Preview: Breaking Down the Roster, Part Four (The Lineup)
In part one of this series I mentioned that there are a lot of fresh faces on this year's Cubs team.
The truth of the matter is that most of those fresh faces are fighting for the last spot in the rotation, holding on to a spot in the bullpen, or riding the pine. The same players, save one, will be in the starting lineup on Monday in Atlanta that were starting for the Cubs in Houston almost one full year ago.
It's odd that a team who wants this season to go so much differently than last would change so little.
Even the one change has a certain air of familiarity to it: the two are both outfielders with a similar skill set that came to the Cubs after a career-best offensive season in Texas.
But let's face it, they are nowhere near being the same player.
As a Cubs fan, you can only hope that 2010 will be nowhere near the same season, either.
It's time to put all that behind us, though. So without further adieu, I present you with the projected starting lineup for Opening Day:
1. Ryan Theriot, Shortstop
2. Kosuke Fukudome, Right Field
3. Derrek Lee, First Base
4. Aramis Ramirez, Third Base
5. Marlon Byrd, Center Field
6. Alfonso Soriano, Left Field
7. Mike Fontenot, Second Base
8. Geovany Soto, Catcher
The Top of the Order (1-2)
Theriot is easily the best option the Cubs have for a leadoff man and, with Soriano down in a more RBI-friendly part of the order, he's finally getting the chance to prove it on an everyday basis.
Last year's numbers wouldn't necessarily lead you to that conclusion, but it was well publicized that Theriot had changed his approach at the plate to try and drive the ball better. That approach led to a hefty decrease in his walk-to-strikeout ratio, going from 1.26 to 0.55, and a 23 point drop in his batting average.
When you take into account his average of .359 this spring, coupled with a 7:8 BB/K, it looks as though he'll be trending towards his 2008 line of a .307 batting average and 73 walks.
After him will be Fukudome, providing a left-handed bat near the top of this heavily right-handed lineup.
It seems to me that Kosuke is being slotted here for four reasons:
1. He provides the aforementioned lefty presence atop the order.
2. He walks much more often and is a greater base stealing threat than fellow lefty Mike Fontenot.
3. He'll get more fastballs to hit with Theriot being a base stealing threat.
4. He'll get more pitches in and around the strike zone with Lee on deck.
Basically, it boils down to the fact that they want more production out of him than they've gotten the past two seasons and that sticking him in that slot gives him the greatest chance for success.
Although being in this role could translate into fewer walks, if he can show the same patience that gave him the eighth-best walk percentage in the majors (15.4%) last season, he should be able to raise his average and increase his production to a more acceptable level.
Using the same formula as above, it would also make sense that young lefty Tyler Colvin could be slotted in at the same spot. The approach would just be much different.
As mentioned in part three of this series, Colvin is not the most patient of hitters. But if he's put in a situation that forces pitchers to throw more fastballs and stay around the plate, he will be in a far better situation to produce than hitting seventh or eighth.
The Heart of the Order (3-5)
After Theriot and Fukudome come Lee, Ramirez, and Byrd.
Lee is coming off of the second-best offensive performance of his career, also easily his best one since his injury-plagued 2006 season.
If he stays healthy, there's no reason to not believe that he could once again maintain an average at or above .290, as he's done each of his last four full seasons, and approach a home run total in the low-30's.
Ramirez is coming off a season that was both productive and highly disappointing. He was limited to only 306 at bats, but was still able to hit 15 home runs, drive in 65 runs, and hit for a .317 average.
He, too, could turn in a season staying above .290 and approaching 30 home runs if he stays healthy.
Then there's Marlon Byrd, the newest addition to the club.
Over the past three seasons in Texas, he's averaged 29 doubles, 13 home runs, and 71 RBI while posting a .295 average and an .820 OPS.
Last year was the most productive of those three seasons, too.
In 599 plate appearances, he hit 43 doubles and 20 home runs while hitting .283 and driving in 89.
With Colvin taking away some of his starts in center, his plate appearances will most likely drop, so it would be unrealistic to expect him to match his career-high totals in both doubles and home runs.
If his numbers in Texas' hitter-friendly ballpark translate well to the Friendly Confines, though, Cubs fans should still be able to count on him for an average around .280 and some decent pop.
If Soriano and Nady produce with some consistency in the sixth spot, we may even see his average rise to near .300, where Byrd was in the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
Also, look for Colvin to see his plate appearances in this slot if he doesn't hit second. Having the threat of either Soriano or Nady, two proven professional hitters, behind him would be the next best (and in my mind, only other) option.
He's not going to unseat Lee or Ramirez for the third or fourth slots any time soon, but he won't get the same kind of pitches to hit if he's batting sixth, seventh, or eighth unless Soto or the second baseman become a threat behind him.
The Bottom of the Order (6-8)
This is where the Cubs are hoping for some bounce-back seasons. If any of these three hitters could step up and have a season like they've shown they're capable of, it could translate into a few extra wins.
Soriano will be hitting sixth, a place he'll likely stick regardless of his production.
How well he performs in that slot could very well be in the hands of Rudy Jaramillo, the Rangers' hitting coach during Soriano's two All-Star and Silver Slugger winning seasons in Texas.
If the Cubs want to ensure a run to the playoffs, a 30 home run, .280 average performance (slightly less than his 2002-2008 averages) from Soriano could go a long way.
As alluded to before, Nady will likely take Soriano's slot in the order when he spots him in left field.
Fontenot, the starting second baseman to begin the season, will hit next.
Although he showed promise in 2007 and 2008—batting a combined .291 with 12 home runs, 34 doubles, and 69 RBI in 544 plate appearances—he didn't at all live up to it last year.
Fortunately, he did show some promise again this spring, hitting .355 with two home runs in 62 at bats.
Soto, who will be hitting eighth, had much the same kind of expectations coming off of his Rookie of the Year season and ended with similar disappointment.
While Fontenot had a strong spring, though, Soto did not. He hit .216 with only one extra base hit (a double) to his credit in 37 at-bats.
Overall, the Cubs defense should perform the same as it has in the past.
Lee is still a Gold Glove caliber first baseman and Ramirez, when healthy, plays a great third base.
Fontenot will play an average second base while double-play partner Theriot provides good range and has an average arm for the position at short.
Fukudome will provide good defense in the outfield, especially since he's moving back to right field, and Byrd is said to be a solid defender in center. Colvin will be a steady replacement defensively for both of them.
Soriano will still be the same outfielder he has been: a good arm and decent range, but still struggling to make plays on a regular basis for one reason or another.
Nady will have his own struggles, but they will be because of his arm. Expect for teams to run on him when he's in left, especially early in the season, to capitalize on that fact.
Then, there's just two other likely starters for the season.
Starlin Castro provides great defense at short and will push Theriot over to second, where he is more of a natural fit, as soon as he's called to the big leagues. The question is more of when that call will come than if.
The other player that could get some serious starts with the Cubs is Sam Fuld. According to Baseball America , he is the best defensive outfielder in the organization.
As we head into Opening Day, it seems as though the lineup could be solid and very productive.
Only time will tell exactly how this season will play out, but it just seems as though this team has too much talent to not improve over last year's poor showing.
I'll hold off on any predictions for the time being, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if this Cubs team produced. They just need to stay healthy and get back to old form.
You can read part five, which covers my predictions for the season, here.
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