Saturday, February 27, 2010

Spring Training Preview: The Starting Position Players

Aramis Ramirez- 3B
Rami is coming off a season in which he was held back by a shoulder injury that occurred on May 8 diving for a ground ball down the third base line in a game against the Brewers. Aramis has been productive since coming to Chicago in 2003, with an average of exactly .300 over that time span. The loss of the cleanup man for a significant period of time would hurt any club, and the lineup was not the same without Aramis, especially with Soriano, Bradley, Soto, and Kosuke struggling. A healthy 2010 is critical for the club, because without A-Ram the Cubs batting order would be like a doughnut (hole in the middle). He worked hard in his home country of the Dominican Republic this winter, but we'll see if it pays off.

Ryan Theriot- SS
Theriot became the first Cub to go to an arbitration hearing since Mark Grace in 1993. He lost the hearing and had to settle for the amount of money that the Cubs were offering him, $2.6 million, which would not be considered a loss for most Americans. Ryan and the club appear to be on the same page once again, and The Riot will turn his focus to trying to keep his job as the starting short stop. He is going into this season with something to prove, because top prospect Starlin Castro is waiting in the wings. There was talk this winter of Theriot moving to second base to make room for Castro at short, but Lou Piniella has said that Ryan is his short stop for now. However, the Cubs' skipper says he would feel comfortable with Starlin as the starting SS if an injury were to occur to Ryan. Theriot will hit somewhere at the top of the order, but it is still up in the air whether he will lead off or bat second.

Derrek Lee- 1B
Ask any member of the team who their leader is, and they won't hesitate before saying Derrek's name. Lee is the calm, cool, and collective type, who leads by example. He doesn't fight teammates, scream at umpires, or complain about the media; but instead just acts professional and takes care of business. D-Lee was one of the only regulars who did not have a down year in 2009, hitting .306 with 35 long balls (his most since his stellar '05 year). The 2009 season was Derrek's third base numbers wise in his 13 year big league career, just behind '05 and '07. In addition to his bat, Lee helps the team on defense saving countless base runner and picking up his teammates when he scoops throws out of the dirt. Derrek is in the last year of his contract and would like to stay with the team beyond this season, but doesn't want those talks to distract from the task at hand.

Geovany Soto- C
After being named the NL Rookie of the Year in 2008, things went downhill for the young Cub catcher in 2009. Soto's suffered from several injuries and other distractions, which resulted in a .218 batting average and a drop in games played. Geo has admitted that he was overweight last season, and he took it upon himself to change that over the winter. Geovany dropped 40... count 'em 40... pound over the offseason mostly through diet along with some exercise. The new, slim downed Geo does not have to deal with playing in the World Baseball Classic this spring as he did in '09, so he will have plenty of time to get his work in in Cactus League games to get ready for what we hope will be a bounce back year. Soto will probably fit in somewhere in the bottom part of the order, but if he hits to his potential he could end up batting 5th or 6th.

Alfonso Soriano- LF
Alfonso Soriano was a major factor in the Cubs' 98 win 2008 season, but then he scuffled through an awful 2009. He hit .241 with just 20 home runs (his lowest total in that category since 2001) before being shut down in September with a knee injury. Sori's knee is feeling better, despite the fact that he did not run 100% on it this offseason. His days as a lead-off man are now behind him, and the sixth spot in Lou's lineup could have his name written all over it. He cannot afford too many slumps at the plate because he is already a minus defender in left. New Cub hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who worked with Alfonso in Texas, could help him return to 2008 form.

Marlon Byrd- CF
Last offseason, the Cubs major acquisition was an outfielder signed as a free agent from Texas with the initials M.B. This year, the Cubs major addition is inking a free agent outfielder from Texas with the initials M.B. However, that's as far as the similarities between Milton Bradley and Marlon Byrd go, as Byrd is a very positive and team oriented guy. Marlon is a very good friend of Jaramillo, as both spent time together with the Rangers and now are happy to come to Chicago together. A familiar face should help make the transition to a big market club a little easier. On the field, Byrd is a right handed on base guy, who's power numbers were up in 2009. Marlon is also expected to help the Cubs defensively in the outfield, but he does not have the range of Sam Fuld or Reed Johnson.

Kosuke Fukudome- RF
Kosuke was pretty much just there in 2009. He did not play very well, but there were so many Cub hitters slumping that he did not receive as much attention as he did in 2008, his first year in Major League Baseball after starting his baseball career in Japan. Kosuke's '08 and '09 seasons were very similar, but hopefully now he has fully adapted to life and baseball in the states. The Cubs do have many other outfield options, so if he goes in any elongated slumps, he could find himself limited to platoon or bench duties. Kosuke's defense is expected to be better this year, because he moves back to right field, where he played in his first season with the Cubs. Kosuke is more comfortable in right than in center, where he moved last year to make room for Milton Bradley in right. Kosuke will hit either first or second in the lineup to start the year, and has a chance at beating out Theriot for the coveted lead-off role. The Cubs had a better record in 2009 when he was atop the lineup than they did with Soriano or Theriot, so maybe that stat will be taken into consideration by Piniella.

Mike Fontenot- 2B
Fontenot excelled as a bench player in 2008, earning him the right to take over the job as the starting second baseman when Mark DeRosa was shipped to Cleveland last winter. However, "Little Babe Ruth" scuffled all year in '09, hitting just .236 with 9 home runs. Due to his struggles as the every day man, there is a chance that Fontenot will be moved back to part-time duty. He will have to go out and earn the job in Spring Training again this year. He has also been taking ground balls at short stop, so he may end up being Theriot's backup as well.

Jeff Baker- 2B
Second base is the only position on the diamond that is up for grabs. Fontenot's main competition for the starting job will be Jeff Baker, who the Cubs acquired from Colorado last summer due to the struggles of Fontenot and Aaron Miles. Baker hit .305 in 69 games after the trade, catching the eye of Cubs' brass. Baker will also serve as a backup to Aramis Ramirez at third, something the Cubs lacked at the start of last season. Just because you got a few good months out of the guy doesn't mean he should be penciled in as a starter, so Lou Piniella will let Baker and Fontenot "battle it out" this spring.

Sometime before Cactus League play begins on Thursday, I'll wrap up our Spring Training Preview series with Part 6- the bench. This post will cover all other position player on the 40-man roster!

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