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Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Season preview: Outfield

By Doug Padilla

Marlon Byrd
With rookie Brett Jackson on the way, Marlon Byrd might not finish the season with the Cubs.
»2012 Cubs Fantasy Projections: Starters | Relievers | Infielders | Catchers | Outfielders

The old veterans of the Chicago Cubs roster all reside in the outfield where Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and David DeJesus patrol the expansive real estate.

Soriano will still be swinging the big piece of lumber he has always taken to the plate, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t making concessions to his advancing age (he turned 36 in January). He did manage to quiet the front leg kick he used as a trigger to his swing, and it seemed to help quicken his bat.

Soriano started fast and remained one of the Cactus League’s home run leaders all spring. Manager Dale Sveum backed off using Soriano in the leadoff spot, instead choosing to use him in the heart of the order this season.

Alfonso Soriano
Buried in the lineup at the seventh spot for much of last season, Alfonso Soriano will have to play a bigger role in the lineup this season.
Soriano will open the season as the No. 5 hitter, strategically placed as the right-handed hitting buffer between left-handed hitters Bryan LaHair and Ian Stewart.

With Brett Jackson looking like he’s about to burst upon the scene, Byrd’s days appear to be numbered. But ideally, the Cubs front office would like Jackson to play a full year at Triple-A before he is recalled, and he only has 48 games of experience there so far.

A realistic arrival time for Jackson will be around midseason. Everybody loves a dynamic young player, and Jackson was as good as anybody this spring, but the Cubs are in no hurry to rush him to the major leagues and damage his confidence in any way.

Byrd was the subject of trade rumors as the spring came to a close, with the Atlanta Braves being named predominately as a possible suitor.

After a disappointing 2011 season, due in large part to getting hit in the face with a pitch and missing a month and a half, Byrd dedicated himself to a fitness and diet program this offseason and lost an estimated 20 pounds. His goal is to avoid the late-season lull that affected him in each of his first two seasons with the Cubs.

DeJesus is embracing his return to the leadoff spot that he was so familiar with during his days with the Kansas City Royals. Last season at Oakland he was rarely used at the top of the order. DeJesus played a solid right field during the spring but never got on a run offensively.

Joe Mather and Reed Johnson will fight for playing time as backup outfielders. Mather had the best offensive performance of anybody in a Cubs uniform this spring, but maintaining that consistency while playing once or twice a week will be difficult.

3 KEYS TO SUCCESS


• Nobody expects Soriano to hit 40 home runs again and drive in 100 runs, but he showed last season that he does have some life in him. An 88-RBI season was his best in a Cubs uniform and his spring showed that he could be ready to do it again, if not add to that total.

• DeJesus is one of the few Cubs players who has the potential to offer a decent on-base percentage. The next best option for a leadoff hitter is possibly Darwin Barney and on-base percentage isn’t one of the strengths of his game. If he doesn’t get off to a hot start offensively, DeJesus must, at the very least, play solid defense and work counts.

• Byrd says that in the weight room he is lifting more than ever, a nice combination with the weight loss. The Cubs could use more than the 21 combined home runs he delivered in the last two seasons. He hit 20 home runs in his final season at Texas in 2009.