Last season, center field was the Cubs weakest position and featured seven players batting a combined .222/.264/.346 with 28 doubles, 15 home runs, 60 RBI and 11 stolen bases. Upgrading was a top priority and the Cubs acquired switch hitting Dexter Fowler from the Houston Astros to do so.
Let’s take a look at one of the few positions on this roster that is already settled going into Spring Training.
Dexter Fowler spent most of his career with the Colorado Rockies and there were some questions about if he would be able to produce away from Coors Field. He silenced his critics with a solid year batting .276/.375/.399 with 21 doubles, four triples, eight home runs, 35 RBI and 11 stolen bases for the Astros. His real value to the Cubs is that he gives them the prototypical leadoff hitter they’ve lacked for a long time.
Fowler was atrocious on defense last year for the Astros and always been below average. Wrigley Field is one of the smaller fields in baseball, so it’s possible with less ground to cover that he may have less trouble. Fowler is also a free agent next season, so he will have added incentive to play his best to improve his value on the open market.
Backing up Fowler will likely be a combination of Arismendy Alcantara, Ryan Sweeney and Chris Denorfia. Alcantara spent most of his time with the Cubs in center last year and batted .198/.242/.379 with six doubles, nine home runs, 22 RBI and four stolen bases. Like Fowler, he struggled on defense, but that was more due to his inexperience than anything else. As the team’s super utility player, he’s already spent time in center field this spring.
As a career .285 hitter against right handed pitchers, Ryan Sweeney might see some time against tough ones as Fowler is weaker against righties. Chris Denorfia probably only sees time in case of emergency. He can play center, but is a much better defender in the corners at this point in his career.
As we mentioned in the left field profile, Junior Lake, Matt Szczur and non-roster invitee Adron Chambers are long shots to make the Opening Day roster, but provide nice depth in center. Lake absolutely failed in his audition at the position last year batting .098 with just 11 hits in 112 at bats. He’s shown a nice power bat and reportedly worked on his on base skills in the off-season. Szczur was functional in his call-up last season and gives the team a nice speed element. Chambers has shown five-tool talent in the minors, but hasn’t had much of a chance to show it in the majors. All three players will spend their spring battling for the first chance to be brought up in case of injury.
Albert Almora was also invited to Spring Training and the former first round pick will get to show the front office if he can rebound from a rough finish to last season. He’s slated to start the year at Double-A Tennessee, but with strong play could be elevated to Iowa.
The trade for Dexter Fowler vastly improved a position that was sorely lacking in overall talent. The Cubs did not give up anything of value and now have a veteran player to set the table for a potentially powerful young lineup. If Alcantara can play to his abilities, the team might have an interesting problem going into the trade deadline.