Chicago Cubs Need Fresh, Exciting Talent at Leadoff Spot

Michael SchoeffelContributor IIIJuly 13, 2011

Tony Campana, who was called up in May, is tied for the team lead in stolen bases.
Tony Campana, who was called up in May, is tied for the team lead in stolen bases.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Cubs haven't had a true leadoff hitter since 2006, when pesky Juan Pierre manned the one-spot.

The 2011 Cubs have struggled in many ways, but one of the main causes of their slip toward the NL Central cellar is the lack of a playmaker like Pierre at the top of the order.

If all had gone according to plan, the job would have gone to kid-talent Corey Patterson, who would be hitting .320, stealing 30-40 bags a year and leading the North-siders to division championships year after year.

As we all know, things rarely go as planned—especially in baseball.

Patterson turned out to whiff all too often (along the lines of Soriano, who I'll get to later) and, when last seen, was busy providing fans at the Roger Centre with free air conditioning.

Since then, the Cubs have had some solid ballplayers at the top of the lineup, but none of them have been "conventional" leadoff hitters.

They experimented with Soriano for several years—and who could blame them?

The man certainly looks the part. He's long and fast, with an athletic, sprinter-like body. But a low on-base percentage, coupled with atmospheric strikeout numbers, kept Alfonso from ever settling into his comfort zone as a leadoff hitter.

Eventually, management realized he was not the man for the job. They handed it over to fan-favorite Ryan Theriot, who did a satisfactory job filling the role.

He wasn't a natural leadoff hitter, but he was a hustler who struck out very little.

After five-and-a-half years with the Cubs, however, "The Riot" (as Chicago fans called him) was shipped to Los Angeles in a deal for current Cub Blake DeWitt.

Theriot is now leading off for the Cardinals.

This year, Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome has been a mainstay at the top of the order.

He started hot, compiling a .400-plus OBP through the month of May and drawing a considerable amount of walks.

But his production has tapered off recently, specifically over the last month, in which he's hitting a meager .228 with a .307 OBP. Even with the flashes of talent that Fukudome has shown, he doesn't provide the spark at the top of the order that Chicago so desperately needs.

The Cubs need somebody exciting. Somebody threatening. Somebody who puts pressure on the opposing team and sets the tone for the rest of the game.

The first name that comes to mind is Starlin Castro.

The 21-year-old phenomenon hits for a high average (.307 this season), steals a fair amount of bases (10) and puts the ball in play often (88 percent of the time).

The only problem is that he's a bit of a free swinger, which means he doesn't draw many walks. He will likely improve on that as he matures, but his ability to drive in runs makes him a better candidate for the three-hole.

Another player on the Cubs roster who could be considered a dark horse for the leadoff spot is young Tony Campana. He proved his value to the club when Marlon Byrd went on the DL in May.

The slap-hitting lefty, who looks more like a bat boy than a ballplayer, was called up from Triple-A Iowa to man center field during Byrd's absence. He is currently tied with Castro for the team lead in stolen bases.

However, it's still unclear whether Campana can compete day in and day out at the major-league level. He's hitting only .263 this year and has looked a little overwhelmed at times. Like Castro, he's young, so he has time to mature and shore up some holes in his game.

There is the long shot that the Cubs will find some help in free agency during the offseason.

The contracts of Brandon Phillips and Jose Reyes expire after this season, and if they don't re-sign with their respective clubs, the Cubs may have the financial resources to bring one of them to Wrigley.

This is, of course, a highly unlikely scenario that would also call for some salary cutting. But hey, a fan can dream, right?

If the Cubs continue their extreme ineptitude after the All-Star break, the final quarter or so of the season will likely be nothing more than extended spring training for players hoping to make the team in 2012.

Management should take advantage of this opportunity and try out some young, fresh faces in the one-spot. Brett Jackson, Johnathan Mota and the aforementioned Campana are all exciting talents that could make an impact.


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