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Feb
5
2008

Cubs 2008 Preview - Center Field

felixpie.1111.jpgCubs phenom Felix Pie has been the subject of numerous posts already on this site, but today it's time to preview his 2008 season. As always, you know where to find the rest of the previews.
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pie.111111.jpgFelix Pie is the crown jewel of the Cubs Organization. Since being signed by the Cubs in 2001, as a 16-year old, Pie has never played a full season in the Cubs Organization without hitting at least .283 or having an on-base percentage of .341. Last season in Iowa, Pie hit a cool .362 with a .410 ob% to go with his .973 ops. While Pie played 87 games with the Cubs last season, he never really played consistently enough to become comfortable and became replaceable with the emergence of Jacque Jones in the second half of the season. As a 23-year old veteran of the Cubs system, it's time for Pie to show that he can play in the majors.

Offensively: This one is kind of tough since the Cubs have sent their hitting instructors to Winter Ball from time to time this work with Pie this off-season to become more 'Kenny Lofton-like'. The Cubs tried something like this before with Corey Patterson and it didn't work. Luckily, Pie has shown the ability to take walks and work with hitting instructors in the past, so I'm going to remain optimistic. If Pie picks up the 'Lofton-like' tendencies, then he will become a slashing hitter who uses his speed to get extra base hits more consistently than he has in the past. If he's unable to convert to this new approach to hitting he will continue to be a young player who struggles from time to time with a long swing and difficulty with off-speed pitches.

pie.111111111.jpgWhile Pie will strikeout from time to time (40 in 50 games at Iowa in '07), he has shown the ability to battle with pitchers, which helps accrue higher pitch counts. In the minors, Pie was counted on to drive in runs, whereas with the Cubs he's going to be counted on to just get on base and create havoc at the bottom of the batting order. He has the ability to hit the ball with authority and out of the ballpark, but hopefully he'll put that mindset on the back burner for another year or so, until he's comfortable in the majors.

If you watched even one game that Pie played in the first thing that would come to your mind is....speed. He has it...and a lot of it. To go from first to third or second to home for him takes mere seconds. To turn a squib single into a double for him happens in the blink of the eye. Still, Pie struggles stealing bases as he's been caught 65 times in 172 attempts in the minors. The Cubs have had former lead-off man Bob Dernier work with Pie and while he was only caught once in nine attempts last season with the Cubs, there is still some work to be done. A reason why Pie may be behind in his base stealing apprenticeship is because he's dealt with some leg injuries throughout the minors.

With Pie having limited historical evidence in regards to his major league hitting skills and the fact that he's learning a new mind set to hitting this off-season, it's difficult to predict what type of numbers he'll put up this season. Still, as a 23-year old in his first full season in the majors I'd look for Pie to put up a line similar to .265/.325/.775 (OPS) with 12 home runs, 45 RBI's, 55 runs scored and 23 stolen bases.

Defensively: Right now, Felix Pie is one of the best center fielders in the National League. Period. End of sentence. The combination of his speed, arm strength and running routes make him an elite defender. Over time, because of his arm, Pie projects to be a right fielder, but for now he'll look quite nice in center at Wrigley.

Pie does pretty much everything well in the outfield. He's very good at going back on balls and charging them. He runs well to the gaps and gets a great jump when the ball hits the bat. One thing Pie will have to work on is his communication skills. Being a 23-year old player in Chicago this season he'll have to deal with an inexperienced outfielder in left field (Soriano) and a Japanese rookie in right field (Fukudome). The center fielder is supposed to be the leader of the outfield, so it will be important for Pie to set the tone early in Spring Training and to make communication a key learning point. During the season it's difficult for outfielders to communicate verbally, so working with each other and finding out what their range is while they are in Mesa will be extremely important.

Depth Chart: It looks like the Cubs will go to Mesa and give 'lil Sam Fuld a shot at being the back-up center fielder. I'm not exactly the biggest fan of Fuld, but the guy has shown the desire to run into walls to catch balls and I have to respect that. Defensively, he should be fine, but the only way he will stay in the majors is if he gets on base. He's kind of like the Ryan Theriot of the outfield in that sense. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cubs shopping around for back-up center fielders around the end of camp.

While Felix Pie won't be the most important player on the Cubs this season, he'll probably be the most important Cubs positional player over the next decade. This season it will be important for him to find his way and become comfortable in the majors. He'll be hitting at the bottom of the batting order, so he might want to take some chances and get out of his comfort zone from time to time just to see what he can do. Look for Pie to add excellent defense to the Cubs attack this Summer and hopefully some timely hitting.
2 Comments
Hank said

I hope Pie learns to hit the offspeed pitches this winter/spring because he is sure to see a lot of them as opposing hurlers pitch around him to get at the pitcher. How many more seasons does Soriano have to play outfield before we can remove the "inexperienced" label?

This is really only going to be his third season in the OF. With some of the difficulties he had last season in dealing with the ivy/wall I'd say it's going to take one more season.


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