Looking For A Lead Off Hitter
Ever since Juan Pierre left town, the Chicago Cubs have been searching for a very good lead off hitter, and the 2012 season will be no different. Next season I think we can expect those duties to be shared by some combination of Starlin Castro, David DeJesus, Darwin Barney, Reed Johnson, and Tony Campana. That’s not encouraging. The best we can probably hope for in 2012 is that Campana can raise his OBP high enough to take the job outright. As nice as that would be, it is not something we can expect.
What about 2013 and beyond? There are a couple of prospects on the way who have a very good chance to take and keep the lead off hitter spot for a long time: Matt Szczur and Zeke DeVoss.
Szczur will arrive first, but the earliest I expect to see him is September 2012. It is unlikely that he will be ready to take over center field until mid-2013. When he does arrive, his patient approach and plus speed should quickly lift him to the top of the batting order. He only swiped 24 bases last season, so he needs to take better advantage of his opportunities on the base paths. Szczur also has a chance to develop enough power that it will be tempting to think about him as a two hitter rather than a lead off man.
If Szczur does become the lead off guy, he may only be keeping the spot warm for DeVoss. The Cubs drafted DeVoss out of Miami with a third round pick in 2011, and he quickly established himself as a name to remember. A switch hitting second baseman with blazing speed, DeVoss posted the gaudy OBP of .458 over his 132 ABs in Boise. That feat was helped by his BB/K ratio of 32/28. Unlike Szczur, DeVoss projects to have very little power, but his ability to swing from both sides of the plate and his tendency to get on base means the Cubs won’t mind at all. DeVoss looks like a pure lead off hitter. If he can take the job in late 2013 or 2014, he will likely hold that job for as long as he is on the Cubs.
Some of you may be wondering about Brett Jackson and why he is not listed as a candidate. I agree that Jackson has the speed to hit lead off and does a very nice job of drawing walks. I even think the Cubs may try him there a few times before Szczur arrives. Despite that, however, Jackson’s high strike out rate and his 25+ HR power make him less than ideal for the top of the batting order. I can see Jackson batting almost anywhere from second to eighth, depending on the rest of the team, but I just don’t think he is likely to stick long term in the first slot.
As I mentioned earlier, though, if Campana can raise his OBP and keep it consistently in the .350 range, even DeVoss may have a hard to replacing him. Campana has all the tools to succeed on the base paths; his problem is just getting on base. If he solves that problem, the Cubs might just have their first true lead off hitter since Pierre.