The Chicago Cubs starting outfield in 2015 will be….
At this point in time, it’s hard to be able to predict this with any certainty. The Chicago Cubs will indeed be active this off-season, and the likelihood of the team adding a veteran outfielder is high. But going with who the Cubs currently have, I’ve got a forecast of the three I see being there on Opening Day. My picks may surprise you.
LF – Chris Coghlan
This should be the least surprising of the group. After starting the season at Triple-A Iowa, Chris Coghlan didn’t make it to Wrigley until May. Upon his arrival, he struggled along with the rest of the Cubs patrolling the outfield. The team wasn’t getting any production, especially from Nate Schierholtz and Junior Lake. Then in July, Coghlan seemed to magically find the form that helped him with the NL Rookie of the Year in 2009. From July on through the end of the season, he batted .312, with 25 2B, three 3B, seven HRs and drove in 37. He became the most reliable of the Cubs to play the outfield in 2014, and has in my opinion locked up one of three outfield spots for next season.
RF – Jorge Soler
At 22, Jorge Soler is without a question the most polished of the positional players the Cubs had debut this year. His power is undeniable, but his approach at the plate was the most noticeable of his skills. Soler only swung at the first pitch 15 times. Generally he was ahead in the count, even when striking out. As a rookie, you have to be excited at his plate discipline as it is often one of the most difficult things to “teach” (see Javier Baez). After batting .292 with five home runs and 20 RBIs in only 24 games, he showed his offensive prowess. Soler also has an arm reminiscent of Andre Dawson, and should be a permanent fixture in right field for years to come.
CF – Justin Ruggiano
Unlikely many of you see this happening, but I have my reasons. Justin Ruggiano finished the year on the DL after having surgery to clean up his ankle. When healthy, he was a more consistent contributor than Ryan Sweeney, who has had his own health issues in his time with the Cubs. In 81 games, Ruggiano hit .281, with six home runs and 28 RBIs. Not eye-popping, but he was consistent, and plays a solid center field. I think Ruggiano can be a 20 home run player for the Cubs, assuming he can stay off the disabled list.
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So you’re asking, where’s Arismendy Alcantara? It was a tough decision, and several factors will decide the fate of this group on Opening Day. The biggest isn’t even an outfielder. Javier Baez. I’m not down on Baez by any stretch of the imagination. But if he struggles in the spring, I think the Cubs may opt to leave him down to start the season, therefore sliding Alcantara into second base to start the year. Even without that factor, I think Ruggiano can win the center field job, with Alcantara as the fourth outfielder. Mike Olt may also be contending for a back-up spot, as the Cubs would like to see his bat on the roster, assuming his improved numbers upon his return to Wrigley in September were more like what we’ll see from him moving forward.
If the Cubs sign a free-agent outfielder, this can all change as well. But they may not be looking for a starter either. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer may peruse the market for a veteran with leadership, who will put the team before playing time. The Hot Stove season is just getting started, and there is much to be decided before the players report to spring training. But there is potential in this outfield, as it’s very young. Coghlan, Ruggiano, and Sweeney are the “veterans”, and none have been in the league for that long (Sweeney is highest at seven years service time).
Have a thought on the Cubs outfield? Who is in? Who is out? Share your thoughts in the comments below.