Smile Politely

Cubs Report to Camp; Predicted to Win NL Central

Spring Training is here. I know I mentioned last time that it seems a good five degrees warmer when the boys of Summer don their Spring uniforms, but its hard to feel that warmth with all this snow in Illinois.

But I digress…

The Cubbies have one field position up for grabs. I can’t remember the last time they had their starting 8 this set in stone and I actually liked it. Oh, they’ve had all eight positions set in the past, but they usually included names like Brant Brown, Manny Trillo, Jason Dubois and other forgettable MLB castoffs. This year, I look at the eight and I’m mostly pleased. Lets go around the horn to get this season started quick-like.

Catcher: I think it’s fair to say that Geovany Soto is a question mark, but for some reason, I’m not worried about this position. Here are a few reasons why: First, He’s improved steadily each year in the minors. If you look at his offensive numbers from A ball though AAA, it’s a consistent improvement. Second, he actually translated his minor league success in the majors, even in the post-season. More important than all that is that he earned the pitchers trust in less than a month. He calls a good game and throws out base runners. So, even if he doesn’t hit as well as he could, he’ll provide the defense at a position where receiving and throwing heavily outweighs offensive performance.

First Base: Derrick Lee. Gold Glove. Great bat. Power numbers were down last year, but, was it the wrist? 2008 will tell. Lee supposedly reported to camp bigger and stronger, so lets hope it translates. Honestly though, 50+ doubles and a .320 BA is fine with me. No complaints here, and no worries with Lee.

Second Base: Mark DeRosa…for now. Still no guarantee a trade won’t happen for Brian Roberts, and at this point, Hendry would be risking messing up solid team chemistry. It’s clear DeRosa and Theriot have the necessary rapport the be a quality double-play combo and they’ve both been quoted saying that staying put is preferable. That said, neither of them are the GM and if Hendry feels like DeRosa is better served as a super-sub, then he should pull the trigger. Personally, I think he should make the trade. Ramirez will be much better in October if DeRosa can sub for him twice a week. DeRosa can play right field and left field once a week and maybe even some shortstop if needed as well. I think it strengthens the club. I almost think Piniella is waiting to see whether Jon Leiber and Ryan Dempster can hold down the three and five slots in the rotation before trading some of the rookies away for Roberts. If he doesn’t make the trade, however, DeRosa brings solid defense and a clutch bat, and I’m fine with that.

Shortstop: Ryan Theriot is my favorite player on the team. A consummate gamer, a grinder and all those other adjectives people use to describe the player on the team with the least amount of overall athletic talent. Let’s be clear though: The Riot gets the most out of what he’s been given. He stole 28 out of 32 bases last year. He holds 400 camps for kids in the off-season. He’s a role model. He’s my kind of ballplayer.

Third Base: Aramis Ramirez is back. He’ll give us 30 and 100 guaranteed in my estimation. His defensive skills seemed to have come back last year and the simple fact is that Ramirez is better when the Cubs are better. He’s the kind of guy that’s going to sluff off when the Cubs are 14 games out. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be a problem this year. He’s the most clutch player on the team, or at least he was until we actually reached the playoffs last year. His disappearance is definitely one of the biggest mysteries of our short three-game dance in ‘07. Maybe a few more days off in the dog days will do the trick. We need him.

Left Field: Soriano. I worry about his leg. I worry about both legs. I’m begging Piniella to bat this guy fifth in the order. Why do we need Soriano to steal bases anyway when we have Theriot, Felix Pie or Sam Fuld for that. What we need from Soriano is 30 and 100, and that laser arm that threw out more baserunners than any other left fielder in baseball last year. That’ll do. He’s not a leadoff man. He’s never been a leadoff man. Bat him third or fifth.

Center Field: The only position battle in Spring. And it’s a good one. In one corner you have Pie. Felix is one in a long line of over-heralded five-tool prospects to come out of the farm system. When I watch, Pie I certainly see three major tools: arm, speed, glove. The other two have not been on display in the majors. He has not hit for power or average, not outside of Des Moines at least. I think he can, but this Spring will be his most important yet and if he doesn’t? Sammy Fuld. I like this guy. It’s hard not to. Listed at 5’10”, the 5’7” Fuld does a little bit of everything. After coming up in September last year Fuld did what he was asked: he got on base, pinch-ran and played good defense in late inning substitution situations. You might remember his catch of the year, where in a key game in the playoff race he stole a ball out of the ivy then proceeded to have the wherewithal (and arm strength) to double-off the runner on first? Fuld is going to give Pie a run for his money with plays like that, and while he doesn’t have Pie’s ceiling (not even close), he’s a more polished player and might be exactly what the Cubs need this year.

Right Field: Fukudome. What a name. I already wrote about this guy. Who hasn’t? He’s been an instant hit with his new teammates and raps in Japanese with Soriano (remember that Alfonso started his career in Japan, and played there for a year before coming over to the Yankees). I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t have a good “rookie year”.

So, how’s that? What do you think good reader? Next column we’ll cover the pitchers. Who’s gonna close? Who’s gonna take slots three and five in the rotation? Where does Michael Wuertz get his good looks?

It’s a tough call.

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