12/04/07 7:12 PM ET
Hillman impressed by Fukudome
Outfielder could be good fit for Cubs if he leaves Japan
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"Given left-handed hitters over the course of my five years in Japan, there's really only one other Fukudome-type that I would put in the same classification, and I managed him, and that was [Michihiro] Ogasawara," Hillman said.
"Ogasawara was the best pure hitter that I ever managed who was left-handed, too. Fukudome is in the same classification. Some of his slug and power numbers are not as consistent as Ogasawara's. But they played in two different leagues. Sometimes that is advantageous, sometimes it's a disadvantage."
Ogasawara won two batting titles from 2002-03, and led in home runs and RBIs in 2006 to win the Pacific League MVP award. A six-time Japanese Gold Glove winner at first and third, he was Fukudome's teammate on the Japan team that competed in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
Hillman, who managed in Japan before getting the Royals job, likes Fukudome's approach.
"He's short to the ball, he's got great balance, he stays inside the ball," Hillman said. "He's got more balance than left-handed, Japanese-style hitters with the leg lift. He's athletic defensively. A lot of people don't know his high school background -- he was originally a shortstop in high school, so that gives you an idea with athleticism and lateral movement. His reads and routes are very pure in the outfield.
"I've been asked ... whether or not he could play center field if there was a need in the right ballpark," Hillman said. "I have no reservations with that. I'm not sure it's a long-term fix in center, but I wouldn't have any reservations about putting him in a center field that wasn't a huge gap-coverage outfield."
The Cubs would be interested in having Fukudome take over right field. Could he be a middle-of-the-order-type hitter?
"Yes," Hillman said. "I think he's a run-producer. Just throwing it out there -- five, six, somewhere in there. Possibly after getting acclimated with the league and the pitching he's facing, maybe even a three. I don't think he's got the consistent slug of a No. 4."
Before the Cubs can write his name in the lineup, they first need to know if Fukudome wants to leave Japan. He has received an offer from the Tokyo Giants, and his agent, Joe Urbon, has said Fukudome will likely narrow his choices by the end of the week.
There were plenty of rumors swirling around the hotel lobby during Day 2 of the Winter Meetings as to who the Cubs might get for right field if Fukudome doesn't chose them. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Tuesday he had not met with any clubs regarding a possible deal for an outfielder.
Other teams have expressed an interest in Cubs pitcher Mark Prior, who is hoping for a comeback this season following arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder. The Cubs must decide by Dec. 12 as to whether to offer Prior arbitration.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.