Today we come to the all important 4th spot in the order. The "clean-up" man is valued by both old-school and new-school thinkers, albeit it in slightly different ways. The bad news is that it's slim pickings come opening day. The good news is that help is coming.
Old School Says: This is where you put your home run hitter. Ideal situation? Everybody gets on base and the 4th hitter cleans it all up with a tidy grand slam. At any rate, he's expected to hit more than solo HRs, so you put him here so he can drive in as many runs as possible. Home runs and RBIs are what you're looking for with batting average and OBP holding less importance.
New School Says: The 4th spot comes up more frequently in run-scoring situations than any other spot in the lineup. The difference is that, along with the 2nd spot, it is considered the spot for the best hitter in your lineup. This spot should be filled by your hitter with the best combination of average, OBP, and, of course, power. Th0ugh he often bats 3rd, Albert Pujols would be the prototype for this school of thought.
Opening Day Candidates:
Alfonso Soriano: Definitely more of an old-school guy as he's a pure home run hitter these days but not much of a great hitter overall. He does project to have a .469 slugging pct., which would rank near the top on the Cubs and his .217 ISO would rank first. His OBP was abysmal last year so despite the occasional power, you have to wonder about giving so many ABs to such a prolific out-maker, especially one who strikes out as much as he does. Put it all together and it adds up to a .331 wOBA and a 95 OPS+, both below league average. He did have 26 HRs and two years ago he did have a .497 slugging pct. and a .352 wOBA, which would make him adequate on this team.
Bryan LaHair: Projects to have a .352 wOBA and a .474 slugging pct. per Bill James. On most teams, that's probably not a cleanup hitter, but on the Cubs those projected numbers put him squarely at the top in both categories. Given 600 PAs, he should hit 20-25 HRs and looks to be around a .270 hitter. He's also shown good plate discipline both at Iowa and in his short stint in the majors. Normally you wouldn't entrust such an important spot to a player who has yet to play a full season in the majors, but LaHair is no kid at 29 and should be able to handle it -- and the Cubs simply don't have a lot of options.
Geovanny Soto: Other than Castro and LaHair, Soto is perhaps the only hitter who looks to be league average or better. He struggled in 2011 but he could fit if he rebounds to 2010 levels when he had a .497 slugging pct. and a .385 wOBA, which would easily be the best on this team if he could repeat that kind of season. He's not a big HR hitter, but he does have extra base power and good OBP skills, so a good season may make him a non-traditional alternative to LaHair and Soriano.
Anthony Rizzo: Rizzo has 25-30 HR potential and the ability to hit about .275 with good OBP skills. That probably won't happen in 2012 but it may not be all that far away. Rizzo is close. He needs to make a few adjustments in his swing, particularly on good inside fastballs, but once he does, he has a chance to solve the Cubs #4 hitter vacancy for years to come, possibly starting as soon as June.
Dan Vogelbach: The big 1st baseman generates tremendous power, the best in the system, with excellent bat speed and a surprisingly effortless swing. He also looks to have a good approach at the plate. Those combination of skills have Cubs scouts thinking he could be a 30+ HR guy with a good batting average and better contact skills than most power hitters. He's a long way away, however, and he 'll start the year in low Class A Peoria. He'll also have to watch his weight, though the last reports I've read indicate that he continues to work hard to stay in shape. He'll have to hit because his other tools aren't all that special. That bat, however, gives him a chance to be a classic cleanup hitter by any definition.
Javier Baez: The best bat speed in the system, Javier Baez has drawn comparisons to Gary Sheffield and Hanley Ramirez. As mentioned in the #3 hitter edition, Baez projects to have 70 hitter and 65 power on a 20-80 scouting scale, which would make him a perennial all-star. He's considered the best hitter for average in the system and could hit as many as 30 HRs per year. He's a great candidate as a new school #4 hitter or a traditional #3 hitter but like Vogelbach, he's a long, long way away and will start in low Class A Peoria. He needs to develop patience as well as trust his natural ability to consistently make hard contact.
Reggie Golden: Chiefs game anyone? Golden is the 3rd player on this list likely to start with the 2012 Peoria Chiefs. According to one NL scout, "The ball comes off of his bat as hard as I've seen. He's got a long ways to go because he will swing and miss a lot, but he hit one and I don't know if they ever found it." He's as strong as any player on this list and takes a powerful swing, but he's raw and doesn't generate power as easily as Vogelbach does. He probably won't hit for a high average, but he has 30 HR potential and showed the ability to take a walk with 28 in roughly 260 PAs. He showed much improvement as far as his approach, but he may ultimately be a guy who fits best in the 6th spot or so.
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