Plenty of depth for Cubs in the outfield
Bradley should provide power; Fukudome looks to bounce back
As the Cubs count down to the start of Spring Training, we have been taking a look at different elements of the team. Today's final installment: The outfield.
CHICAGO -- Depth.
It's something teams strive for and something the Cubs feel they have in the outfield as they head into Spring Training. The difference this season is that the Cubs not only have quantity but quality, too.
Alfonso Soriano is a fixture in left, while Reed Johnson, Joey Gathright and Kosuke Fukudome can play all three outfield positions. The addition of switch-hitting Milton Bradley gives the Cubs a power-hitting right fielder who could sub in center, if needed. New addition Aaron Miles has an outfield glove, too.
Bradley may be the biggest name added this offseason, but Fukudome will be the one to watch in his second season in the Major Leagues. In his first year, the Japanese outfielder won over fans with a game-tying, three-run homer in the ninth on Opening Day, and hit .327 in the first month. Then he faltered, lost his starting job and finished the second half at .217.
"I think Fukudome is going to bounce back and have a good year for us," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "This is what I think -- I think he got tired last year. He didn't play a full season the year before in Japan.
"The schedule here is a lot more demanding with day games and night games and the travel, a long Spring Training, acclimating to a new country, new culture, food," Piniella said. "I think, basically, he got tired."
The Cubs decided to adjust Fukudome's workouts and sent one of their staff to Japan to monitor his progress.
"We have tried to put more core into his workouts," Piniella said. "He spends a lot of time at the ballpark but there's a lot of stretching, massages, the throwing and the hitting, but the core work is what we've added to get him stronger.
"I think he wore out," Piniella said. "Once I think he wore out, I think he started to use more body into his swing and he got away from the things that made him successful. I think the second year, coming to camp a little stronger, I think you'll see a much different player the whole year. That's what I'm hoping for."
Fukudome played 81 games in his last season in Japan with the Chunichi Dragons because of an elbow injury that required surgery in August 2007. With the Cubs, he never let his problems at the plate interfere with his performance on the field and was one of the best defenders in the National League.
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry did tell Fukudome at the end of the 2008 season that the team would look for another left-handed bat to help this year, and that the Japanese outfielder will have to prove he deserves playing time.
Enter Bradley, who signed a three-year, $30 million deal and brings a much-needed dimension to the Cubs. He led the American League in on-base percentage last season with Texas. Bradley batted .321 and hit 10 of his 22 homers off left-handed pitching.
"I look forward to putting him in the lineup and letting him play," Piniella said.
Bradley's history of run-ins with fans and the media doesn't bother his new teammates.
"We need people who like to win, who are on the same page," Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano said. "I think Milton is a great teammate, from what I heard. He doesn't have a problem with teammates. Sometimes, the problems he has are on the field when people go after him.
"He's a grown man, and he knows how to handle things," Zambrano said. "We'll look for him to do what he has to do on the field and take care of himself. We just want him to have a good year for us."
This will be Soriano's third season in Chicago, and he has yet to get through a campaign without a leg injury. The Cubs don't want him to try to steal bases as much to avoid getting hurt, which raises the question, why not move him out of the leadoff spot?
"If I didn't get asked that question, I wouldn't think I was in Chicago," Piniella said.
The answer? Piniella likes Soriano at the top of the order.
"He's a player and he wants to win," Piniella said. "He's got all the money in the world. What's important to him is to win. Our objective is to win and give ourselves another chance at the postseason. With this team, I feel confident we'll do that."
Johnson will likely get moved around the most. He hit.303 in his first season with the Cubs, which wouldn't have happened if the Toronto Blue Jays hadn't released him in Spring Training a year ago. He won't provide much power, but Johnson will get on base and deliver in the clutch. And he isn't afraid of walls, which he proved with a head-on collision with the center-field fence in Washington last season.
Gathright, signed as a free agent from the Royals, gives the Cubs speed. If you haven't seen the video of him jumping over two cars in a parking lot, check it out on YouTube. How fast is he?
"Very fast," Gathright said. "Both of my parents were fast."
He's not sure how much playing time he'll get, but expect Piniella to have him play all over. Gathright does realize Soriano is a fixture in left.
"You never know -- he might have a bad day, be sick or something, and need me to fill in," Gathright said. "If that happens, I'm ready."
And so are the rest of the outfielders on the Cubs' roster.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.