The plan for left field coming out of Spring Training was to have two of the Cubs youngest and most promising hitters in Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler share the position. All those plans were for naught when Schwarber suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the season. Instead, the position became a place for manager Joe Maddon to match hitters with the right situations to help them achieve success. In all 13 players manned left field and they collectively batted .269/.370/.463 with 41 doubles, two triples, 24 home runs, 86 RBI and six stolen bases.
With Schwarber down, Jorge Soler led the way with 51 starts in left field. He began the season very slow, but started to pick it up as the weather warmed. He batted .245/.337/.442 with eight doubles, eight home runs and 21 RBI. After missing most of July with a hamstring issue, Soler scorched much of August batting .306 with four doubles, five home runs and 14 RBI, but followed it up with a poor September and batted just .171. With Ben Zobrist playing left field for most of the playoffs and Kyle Schwarber set to return next year, it’s hard to see where Soler fits moving forward. He may be the top trade chip to acquire young pitching or the team may opt for him to get regular at bats in the minors to up his potential trade value again.
Kris Bryant was second with 36 games started, but actually led the team in total games in left field with 60. The NL MVP was easily the top producer at the position as he slashed .301/.421/.582 with 12 doubles, one triple, nine home runs, 28 RBI and two stolen bases. He was no slouch in the field either with a 23.3 UZR rating and three assists. He figures to get time again next year in the outfield depending on matchups.
Despite being reacquired by the team in June, Chris Coghlan came in third with 24 starts in left. Coghlan had an absolute awful time adjusting to a new league with Oakland and quickly became his old self again when he returned batting .250/.395/.412 with six doubles, one triple, one home run and nine RBI. Once a liability in the outfield, Coghlan continued to improve and posted an above average rating in left. He opted for free agency after the season and will likely play elsewhere with the hopes for more playing time as a utility player.
Willson Contreras picked up 21 starts in left thanks to Soler’s injury in an effort to keep his hot bat in the lineup. With 49 total games in the minors in the outfield, Contreras was no stranger, but hadn’t played consistently there since switching to catcher full time in 2012. He was well below average and likely won’t spend much time there going forward since he’ll likely be the starting catcher next year and beyond. Luckily, the position change didn’t affect Contreras very much as he slugged .284/.370/.432 with six doubles, two home runs, seven RBI and two stolen bases.
Matt Szczur made 14 starts, but was third on the team with 50 appearances in left mostly as a defensive replacement. He started strong and showed a clutch bat at times, but couldn’t keep the momentum going the whole season. He hit just .227/.293/.373 with two doubles, three home runs, 14 RBI and one stolen base. He’s always been a strong defensive outfielder and could still sneak on the team as their fifth outfielder, but it really depends on the team’s plans for Ben Zobrist and if the club thinks Albert Almora Jr. is ready. If so, Szczur could probably be a quality fourth option for any club.
Speaking of Zobrist, he started 11 games during the regular season and in 17 games in the postseason. The World Series MVP is probably slated to play second base next year, but was very comfortable in left batting a combined regular and post season .266/.352/.394 with nine doubles, one triple, one home run, eight RBI and one stolen base. He’s been above average in the corners in his career, but dipped to average last year defensively and could be a factor in the outfield depending on the maturation of Javier Baez.
Kyle Schwarber managed just four at-bats in left this past season, but figures to be in the running for the left fielder’s job based on their reluctance to part with him. It’s still yet to be determined if his knee injury affects his ability to catch going forward, but his fantastic World Series performance of batting .412 despite not seeing any live pitching for virtually a full season makes him a special talent going forward.
Albert Almora Jr., Ryan Kalish, Travis Wood, Javier Baez, Pedro Strop and Spencer Patton were the others who patrolled left field during the season. Considering three of those were bullpen pitchers, of the rest only Almora Jr. and Baez figure to be factors next year. Almora Jr. will be profiled more heavily in our center field review, but spent eight games in left last year and collected three RBI in just 10 at-bats. Baez played just two games in left, but originally was shagging balls in the outfield last spring and could be called to do it again depending on how the roster shakes out.
Cubs 2016 Position Reviews
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