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Cubs playing with 24-man roster

5/21/2009

This post from Bruce Miles is a few days old, but still highly relevant ...

    One of the more curious aspects of covering the Cubs all these years has been the organization's insistence on carrying 12 pitchers at the major-league level. It was that way under Dusty Baker when he was field manager, and it's like that now under Lou Piniella.
    I could see the need for 12 pitchers -- well, maybe not -- if Lou was actually going to use 12 pitchers. But right now, the Cubs are carrying 12 while using only 11. In other words, they have essentially an 11-man pitching staff without benefit of the extra position player.

    The guy the Cubs are trying to hide here is rookie David Patton, the Rule 5 kid out of Colorado they obtained at the winter meetings in a trade with the Reds. Having Patton on the roster would be all well and good if the Cubs were actually going to use him. As it is, Patton hasn't appeared in a game since May 9 at Milwaukee, when he gave up 3 hits, 1 walk and 2 runs in two-thirds of an inning. Before that, Patton pitched May 5 and May 1. Since the 9th, he's warmed up, but he hasn't gotten into a game.

    --snip--

    Although the offense has found a spark of late, the Cubs still could use the extra bat. How about calling longtime organization guy Jake Fox, who has been atop all three Triple Crown categories as he completely destroys the Pacific Coast League at Class AAA Iowa? Now ol' Jake isn't going to give you much defense. Heck the Cubs have tried him at catcher, the infield corners and the outfield corners, and they haven't much liked what they've seen. But the people I've talked with say Jake is flat-out a major-league hitter. He could give D-Lee a break at first base and come out later for defense. With Mike Fontenot slumping badly, you could put Jake at third to start a ballgame and get him out later. And, of course, he could pinch hit and get you a knock.

Jake is having one of those years. Or at the very least, one of those springs. Actually, he's doing better than that. He might be enjoying one of the great springs in Pacific Coast League history. In 35 games, Jake's batting .431/.513/.954 with 17 homers and 50 runs batted in. I've never used this word in this context, but Jake's numbers this spring are sick. And he's not some Triple-A geezer; ol' Jake won't turn 27 until July.
Nevertheless, putting Jake at third base isn't a fantastic idea. From the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, perhaps the most scathing comment they've ever published:

    There are scouts who swear that Fox's plus power would produce 25 homers if he got the chance to play every day in the majors. The problem is that those longballs would come with a low batting average, plenty of strikeouts and absolutely no defensive ability ... Fox can crush any fastball out of any park, in part because he sits on fastballs and sells out for power every time. He can't handle breaking balls, won't work counts and rarely listens to batting coaches. Power is Fox's only tool, and one scout described his defense as "a notch above horrific."

Fox isn't going to play third base in the majors; not for the Cubs or anyone else. There may well be a place for him in the majors as a part-time first baseman or pinch-hitter, though. There probably should be a place for him. More the point, Miles is exactly right: It's simply unconscionable for a contending team in a competitive division to devote a roster spot to a player who's not allowed to play. I don't know if young Jake Fox deserves that spot. But someone certainly does.