By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) Who will take the field on Opening Night as the Cubs’ center fielder and likely lead-off hitter? That remains an unknown question with 2015 upon us.READ MORE: Multiple Juveniles Arrested After Large Gathering, Fights Near Millennium Park
Of course, the center fielder won’t necessarily be the lead-off hitter in manager Joe Maddon’s batting order, but the odds are that unknown player will bat first.
Incumbent Arismendy Alcantara seems too have a world of potential and a skill set still to be determined as he enters his first full season in the big leagues. In 2014, Alcantara played center field for the first time in his baseball career. He learned the position at the big league level and looked comfortable tracking fly balls and hitting the cutoff man. A combined 20 home runs and 29 stolen bases between Triple-A and the major leagues also indicates Alcantara my be headed toward a special career.
Alcantara will play the 2015 season at age 23. In essence, he’s a baby by professional standards. To say whether he can be an everyday big league star would be speculation at this point.
“I love his fluid play and enthusiasm,” an NL scout said. “The swing-and-miss factor was a bit alarming (93 strikeouts in 278 at-bats), but it is too early to say he can’t modify his swing. He has excellent speed and surprising power for a guy that may be 160 pounds dripping wet. He will be around for a while, because he is a switch-hitter and plays multiple positions.”READ MORE: 1 Dead, 3 Injured In Shootings On Near West Side
If he can carry it over to the majors, Alcantara’s minor league career on-base percentage of .337 would be just fine for Maddon to stick with the youngster as the lead-off man to start the season. But the .254 on-base percentage that Alcantara had in the majors in 2014 won’t be satisfactory in order to play as a starter.
Some in the Cubs organization believe Alcantara might be best served as a super-sub who gets 400 at-bats and plays all over the infield and outfield. A superb strategist who likes to play the matchups, Maddon will be looking for a Ben Zobrist-type player to develop during his tenure with the Cubs, and Alcantara may be that guy.
The free agent and trade markets looks barren when looking for center field help. Colby Rasmus is the lone true center fielder left on the unsigned free agent list. A good outfielder, the 28-year-old Rasmus has a career .313 on-base percentage and .246 batting mark. Rasmus has had three seasons of 22 or more home runs, but his overall numbers have been erratic.
The chance of getting a good outfielder in a trade may be enhanced with catcher Welington Castillo’s availability.MORE NEWS: University of Chicago To Host Public Memorial For Civil Rights Activist Timuel D. Black
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.