Joe Maddon floated the idea that Dexter Fowler would be the right player at the right time for the Cubs. The manager talked up his new switch-hitting leadoff guy/centerfielder in spring training as someone on the verge of a breakout season.
Maddon felt Fowler would be playing at a prime age (29) and had already seen a lot with the Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros.
The media noticed how Fowler had once made the interesting decision to turn down an offer to play basketball at Harvard University. Cubs officials pointed out Fowler had worked with new hitting coach John Mallee last season in Houston and would help create this new identity as a grinding type of offense.
It hasn’t quite happened yet.
“I believe it’s there,” Maddon said at Wrigley Field. “I believe you’re going to see it by the end of the season. He’s probably even trying a little bit too hard to set the table for us. And that’s why I wanted to back it off a little bit.”
So Maddon dropped Fowler to the seventh spot on Monday and moved Chris Coghlan into the leadoff position. It didn’t make a difference in a 6-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals — lineup shakeups usually don’t matter and the offensive issues are team-wide now. But Fowler did walk, single and drive a ball to the warning track against right-hander John Lackey.
“Just take a little heat off him,” Maddon said. “I actually texted him today — we went back and forth. I just told him I had a different idea for today until he really gets it going from the left side. Because when he’s got it going on, he really does make us great. Look at the numbers when he gets on base and scores a run, (see) what our record looks like (27-12).
“It’s obvious right now there’s a disconnect between the left- and right-handed side.”
Fowler should be back at the top of the order for Tuesday’s doubleheader against St. Louis left-handers Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney. Fowler is hitting .340 with an .833 OPS against lefties — while hitting only .210 with a .655 OPS against right-handers.
Overall, Fowler is hitting .230 in his walk year, with eight homers, 11 stolen bases and 51 runs scored. His .308 on-base percentage is 58 points lower than his career average heading into this season.
That makes tagging Fowler with a qualifying offer — and getting the draft-pick compensation once he signs elsewhere — a more complicated decision.
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Then again, it’s not like the Cubs have all these outfielders forcing the issue at Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee for 2016 (unless you pull the plug on Kyle Schwarber’s catching experiment).
Fowler still has the second half to put it all together, and the Cubs in a pennant race will be a big platform.
“His defense has been really good, and his baserunning has been really good,” Maddon said. “I have a lot of faith in this guy. He’s really a bright young man. He comes to play every day. It hasn’t manifested itself yet.”