The team has much more organizational depth at CF than in the corners. The team is building from the middle out. There is more value in up the middle positions and it's easier to move a player from CF to the corners than vice-versa, so it makes sense philosophically.
The problem is that most CF'er aren't built to hit like corner OF'ers. There are some players we'll talk about where it's CF or bust (or at least 4th OF'er) while others may develop the power to move if necessary.
Offensive outlook (Bill James projections):
- David DeJesus: .264/.345/.389 with 9 HRs, 9.6% walk rate, and .319 wOBA
- Tony Campana: .276/.321/.322 with 21 SBs, .288 wOBA
David DeJesus is the current starter though the Cubs haven't ruled out picking up a full-time CF and moving him back to RF. James predicts a similar season as 2012 but with a slight regression in terms of power, bringing his wOBA down to a fringe average .319. A bigger concern with DeJesus may be his increasing struggles with left-handed pitching. Last year he hit .149 without a single extra base hit against southpaws. He hit .174 the year before with just 4 doubles and 1 HR, so this isn't a fluke It's getting harder to justify DeJesus as anything more than a platoon player. Against RHP, however, he has great OBP skills with occasional power. He's a great presence in the clubhouse and one of the team leaders, so DeJesus has a lot of value to the Cubs off the field and on.
We mentioned that it's possible that Dave Sappelt may get a look in CF but for now the only true CF on the roster is Tony Campana. Unfortunately, he's a lefty hitter as well and hit just .229 against LHP -- also without an extra base hit. To increase his chances of playing, or even staying on the 40 man roster, Campana has to improve his OBP skills. He has to stop trying to hit the ball in the air and he has walked in just 5.5% of his ABs as a pro, which is a prime reason why he has only hit for a .306 OBP. For a guy who's only plus tool is as a runner and thus needs to get on base to have any value, that just isn't good enough.
DeJesus was once a good CF'er but those days are behind him. Right now he's penciled in at the position because of necessity. He's still a good corner OF'er, despite the negative UZR rating last season, but he hasn't really been an asset in CF since for several years now. Unless the Cubs acquire someone before the season starts, it's the one position where the Cubs will play a below average defender on opening day.
Campana played plus defense in 2011 but regressed somewhat in 2012. He's inconsistent with his reads and jumps but his outstanding speed covers a lot of his mistakes. Overall he's been above average over the two years, but he needs to be more consistent with this CF defense.
We've talked about Campana but beyond him, the Cubs have Bryan Bogusevic, who is a capable CF on a part time basis but is more suited for the corners. Bogusevic is another lefty hitter,however, and doesn't solve the Cubs problem of who can step in and help out vs. LHP in the OF.
The Cubs could really benefit from the emergence of Brett Jackson, whom we'll talk about more in the prospect section. He's yet another LH hitter, but he hit lefties well at Iowa (.279/.366/.574), so there's every reason to expect he can be a full-time player -- if he can solve his contact issues. The Cubs are hoping a revamped swing will help him make better contact without losing any of his average to plus power.
The Cubs could really use a full-time CF with good defensive skills and may have to acquire a stopgap from the outside. There's much talk about Michael Bourn but I really don't see him as a worthwhile risk. He's an elite defender but an average hitter and it seems to me the Cubs can get a similar type of player for a lot less than 15M/yr and a 30-40 pick in the 2013 draft.
Coco Crisp is another option we've talked about but the A's seem reluctant to deal him, or at least seem to want something more than salary relief. Crisp would be a nice band-aid for the situation, but only if he doesn't cost the Cubs a good prospect.
Franklin Gutierrez would be a nice fit but with the Mariners fielding a softball team (Montero, Ibanez, Morales), they're going to need someone to pick up the slack on defense. The Cubs tried unsuccessfully to pry Peter Bourjos lose from the Angels in exchange for Carlos Marmol but with the deal of Kendry Morales, it now appears that the Angels have solved their OF log jam with Trumbo, Trout, Hamilton, and Bourjos. They can DH Trumbo and, occasionally Hamilton, while finding a taker for Vernon Wells. Gerardo Parra is an excellent defender who may be available. He's another LH hitter but holds his own against LHP. Other names could surface and the Cubs may need to get creative to fill that CF void. To me it's the biggest remaining hole on the roster.
Most MLB Ready: Brett Jackson. The Cubs really didn't expect Jackson to be ready last year but they did get a long look at him and think they may have found a flaw in his swing. There have been encouraging reports this offseason with his progress but I'm anxious to see him against live pitching. If he can cut down the Ks to a manageable rate and hit, say .250, then you can live with it as he'll supplement that average with a good walk rate, provide good defense, power, and speed on the bases.
Top MLB prospect: The one player that all the Cubs brain trust agreed on last year for the 6th pick was Albert Almora. The 18 year old has a sound, fundamental swing (albeit with a high leg kick). He has good hand-eye coordination and should hit for average while hitting anywhere from 10-20 HRs. He's not a burner but superior instincts make him a plus defender in CF with an above average arm. Almora has all-star potential in CF with his all-around skills and is one of the Cubs top 3 prospects. Apart from his great baseball skills, Almora is lauded for his work ethic and mental makeup.
Others to watch
Matt Szczur,23, is sandwiched in between Brett Jackson and Albert Almora and he'll have to play well to move Jackson to a corner. Like Jackson, Szczur is working on his swing this offseason. Szczur, however, doesn't have problems making contact. The concern with him is whether he'll hit with enough extra base power at the MLB level. From what I've seen, he needs to use his lower half better. He's already improved his defense, baserunning, and plate discipline tremendously in just one season, so given his work ethic and athleticism, I'm optimistic he can make the adjustment. If Szczur can't make it in CF, he may make a very good 4th OF'er, though starting in a corner is less than ideal given his lack of power right now.
Similar to Almora, Jae-Hoon Ha, 22, makes up for a lack of top shelf speed with good athleticism and outstanding instincts defensively in CF. He has a plus arm and is capable of playing all 3 OF positions. Last year in AA, Ha improved his plate discipline and more than doubled his walk rate. What's holding Ha back is his bat. He looks to have an average hit tool with below average power right now. It may relegate him to extra outfielder status.
Trey Martin, 20, was one of the players that impressed him this season at Boise. He's an athletic player with good speed, though it doesn't translate to basestealing. He's more of a long strider and eats up ground in CF. He's capable of making highlight reel plays in the field. At the plate he needs to work on his pitch selection an shorten his swing but he excelled in AZ and held his own in Boise, showing good gap power at times. He's long and lean right now and it remains to be seen how he fills out. If he fills out, gains strength, and develops some power, I won't rule out him being able to move to a corner if necessary.
Shawon Dunston, Jr. , 19, is a quick twitch athlete like his dad. He was a bit overwhelmed in Boise but regrouped in AZ, showing good plate discipline and the ability to make solid contact. Dunston has a ways to go yet and should get another crack at Boise. He works hard and has strong makeup -- as evidenced by how he responded after his demotion to AZ. I'm looking for a bounce back year.
Jeffrey Baez is one of the youngest in this group at 19 ( 6 months older than Almora and 8 months younger than Dunston) and shows an intriguing combination of speed and gap power. He's shown a decent eye at the plate, though that was at the lowest levels (DSL), so we'll see how he responds as he moves up the levels. He'll probably be at AZ, so he's not nearly as advanced as Almora.
Others: Pin-Chieh Chen, Rubi Silva, John Andreoli, Oliver Zapata, Evan Crawford
Filed under: position by position analysis