By holding onto marginal pieces Chris Coghlan and Justin Ruggiano at the trade deadline, players who could have helped other teams but wouldn’t provide a significant return, the Cubs have set themselves up in the outfield for 2015. While it may only be August 1, with the way the Cubs’ roster is constructed, major free agent signings in the outfield just do not make sense this offseason so fans should have a pretty clear look at what the future holds in 2015. This is a projected look at what the outfield depth chart will look like next season.
Starter: Chris Coghlan
Competition: Jorge Soler, Junior Lake, Mike Olt
Chris Coghlan has experienced a career renaissance this season with the Cubs, hitting .282/.358/.452 in 214 plate appearances. The 2009 Rookie of the Year winner saw his career slowly spiral out of control in Florida and it bottomed out when he had to sign a minor league contract with the Cubs this offseason. So far, Coghlan has been one of the buy-low players that has worked out for Chicago and the Cubs will control his rights through 2017. If Coghlan can continue to play at this level with consistency, he will become a decent trade chip down the line when younger players are ready to take over the position.
One of those players, Jorge Soler, may be ready as soon as next year, so Coghlan shouldn’t get too comfortable in left. Soler signed a nine-year deal worth $30 million as a 20-year-old out of Cuba in 2012. Since he signed a Major League contract, Soler is already on the 40-man roster and is not subject to service time considerations as other top prospects are. This means that as soon as Soler is ready to come up, he will. From the looks of it, he may be at that point already.
After putting hamstring issues on both legs behind him, Jorge Soler came up to Double-A last month and completely obliterated it, finishing with a final line of .415/.494/.862 with six home runs in 79 plate appearances. Despite the beauty of that triple-slash line, the best stat may be his walk rate which sat at 15.2 percent. This performance earned Soler a promotion to Triple-A and all he has done is improve his strike-zone awareness (17.9 percent walk rate, 14.3 percent strikeout rate) while hitting .304/.429/.696 in 28 plate appearances. While the sample sizes are admittedly small, it seems clear that Soler deserves a September call-up to see what he can do.
Other than Soler and Coghlan, the two players who could also vie for playing time in left field next year are the familiar Strikeout Kings of Chicago, Mike Olt and Junior Lake. Olt and Lake’s struggles have been well-documented, but both players still possess skill and upside no matter how far away they may be from realizing it.
Entering Spring Training in 2015, Chris Coghlan will likely be the incumbent with Jorge Soler set as the challenger. I think there’s a pretty clear idea of who the fan’s favorite will be, we’ll just have to see if the front office feels the same way.
Starter: Arismendy Alcantara
Competition: Ryan Sweeney, Justin Ruggiano, Junior Lake
Center field is the most unsettled of the outfield positions heading into 2015. For now, Arismendy Alcantara is expected to hold down second base, giving Justin Ruggiano and potentially Ryan Sweeney more playing time. However, I expect at some point this year we will see Javier Baez at second base, shifting Arismendy Alcantara to center. This may not happen in 2014 and may not be how the Cubs line up to begin 2015, but it is the way the team should line up at the end of next season.
Justin Ruggiano may have something to say about that if he can stay healthy and put his power and speed on display. Ruggiano has performed capably this year, hitting .281/.340/.427 in 201 plate appearances, but he has not shown the power or speed he has in the past, having hit 31 HR with 29 SB in 219 games for the Marlins the past two years. Ruggiano is controlled through the 2016 season, so the Cubs will give him a long leash to prove what he can do as an everyday starter. In the best case scenario, Ruggiano takes a starting gig and runs with it, all the way into the arms of another team as the Cubs ship him off for more assets.
Starter: Justin Ruggiano
Competition: Ryan Sweeney, Kris Bryant
Right field belongs to Kris Bryant long-term, but Justin Ruggiano may end up keeping it warm for him to open the season next year. The real key to unlocking the future of this position for the Cubs is whether or not the front office lets Bryant continue to play third base. For me, I really don’t see the point. Even if Bryant has the skill to play the position at the Major League level and the Cubs have a current opening, Bryant without a doubt will be moved to the outfield when both Javier Baez and Addison Russell join the team. The wildcard here would be if Starlin Castro is traded away, but that kind of thing can’t be predicted. Moving Bryant to the outfield as soon as possible makes the most sense for his long-term defensive development.
By the end of 2015, a realistic Cubs starting outfield could consist of Jorge Soler in left, Arismendy Alcantara in center and Kris Bryant in right. Could it really be that simple? With that configuration, the Cubs would be getting exactly what teams look for in their outfielders: power in the corners, range up the middle. For Cubs fans, it almost seems too good to be true. But if we’re fortunate, that configuration may be on display at some point before the 2014 season concludes.