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Friday, February 17, 2012
Cubs spring preview: Outfield

By Bruce Levine

Alfonso Soriano
The Cubs have tried to move Alfonso Soriano, left, and Marlon Byrd, but for now the veterans will start.
With pitchers and catchers reporting to Mesa, Ariz., on Saturday, Bruce Levine previews the Cubs roster by position this week.

The Chicago Cubs have an incomplete look to their outfield. The front office has been trying to move Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Byrd throughout the offseason without any takers. The present group lacks enough range and arm strength to help pitchers fight off that dreaded fourth out of the inning.

Center field: Byrd returns as the incumbent in center. After serving as the Cubs' lone All-Star in his first season in Chicago in 2010, Byrd's 2011 season was derailed when he was beaned in May against the Boston Red Sox, keeping him out for six weeks. As tough as Byrd is, he never regained his batting stroke, hitting .276 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs. The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves have asked about the 34-year-old Byrd since July. Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry turned down a deal with Atlanta because he wanted the next GM to make the call since Hendry already knew he was fired. Speedster Tony Campana will back up Byrd and try to prove to manager Dale Sveum that he can handle the everyday job. Campana led the Cubs with 24 stolen bases in 95 games. Dave Sappelt, acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in the Sean Marshall trade, is a solid defender who has hit for high averages in the minor leagues. Sappelt, who batted .313 at Triple-A Louisville last season before being called up by the Reds, will battle Campana for a backup job.

Left field: Soriano, who hit 26 home runs with 88 RBIs last season, is the only legitimate home run and RBI man in the lineup outside of perhaps first baseman Bryan LaHair or third baseman Ian Stewart. Soriano, 36, is best suited to be a designated hitter at this point of his career. If he stays with the Cubs he will be a seven-inning player in close games. Reed Johnson will back up all three outfield spots. Johnson led the Cubs with a .309 average last season and proved to be a clutch hitter. Sappelt or Campana will also back up this spot.

Right field: David DeJesus will be the everyday right fielder to start the season. The 32-year-old veteran batted .240 with 10 home runs and 46 RBIs with the Oakland A's last season. He will likely lead off against most right-handed pitchers.

Wild card: Brett Jackson, 24, will break into this outfield sometime this season. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer do not want to rush him or first baseman Anthony Rizzo to the majors. Jackson has five-tool ability and will probably settle in as a right fielder. Expect both young players to be in the big leagues by June.