Mooney: Leadoff questions start with DeWitt

Mooney: Leadoff questions start with DeWitt
February 18, 2011, 3:31 am
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Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011
Posted 9:13 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Cowboy boots next to his locker, a crossword puzzle in his hand, Blake DeWitt doesnt act like hes owed anything. The Cubs second baseman separated his offseason into two categories: working out and bowhunting.

Especially for a former first-round pick, DeWitt is quiet and low-key and serious about his craft. Those qualities were probably noticed by front-office assistant Greg Maddux, who played with DeWitt in Los Angeles and recommended him in the Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot deal last summer.

Though only 25, this will be DeWitts eighth professional season 2010 was the first time he spent all year on the major-league level. And he continues to make adjustments.

DeWitt talked extensively with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and decided to eliminate the toe-tap mechanism from his swing, which he used throughout his rise in the Dodgers organization.

DeWitt, who grew up Missouri and enjoyed moving back to the Midwest, does not view this as a make-or-break year in his career. As a rookie in 2008, he hit .264 with nine homers and 52 RBI in 117 games for a division champion. He just wants to get back to the playoffs.

I dont necessarily set any personal goals right now, he said. I want to win the World Series and thats it. I concentrate (on) the right things and the personal stuff will fall into place.

The Cubs still dont know exactly what they have in DeWitt its only been 184 at-bats but they see youth and potential, someone who should hit to all fields and with more power.

Manager Mike Quade thinks DeWitt can grow into being the leadoff hitter, though Jeff Baker and Kosuke Fukudome figure to be in the rotation.

It would be a huge challenge for him, Quade said, but theres probably a whole bunch of guys that have a chance (if) we have to mix and match. You always say stuff and then someone asserts himself and takes the job. And then my decisions easy.

(But) you cant lose sight of the fact that if (Fukudomes) in the lineup, (hes) the guy that fits the best of this whole group to me.

Since Ryne Sandbergs last game in 1997, the Cubs have used seven different starting second basemen on Opening Day in the past 14 years.

DeWitt, who is eligible for arbitration for the first time next year, could stabilize the position. Or, six weeks from Opening Day, at least represent some possible upside in a lineup filled with players over 30.
Defending Soriano

Alfonso Soriano, who turned 35 last month, is at an age where hes no longer a threat to steal bases, and his days as a leadoff hitter are over. The Cubs hope he can still hit enough home runs to make up for his defensive lapses.

Its too early for Quade to say whether he will pull Soriano from the outfield late in close games. It will likely depend on the situation.

Look, hes not running the way he (once) did, and its a thought, Quade said Thursday. But of all the decisions Ive got right now, thats way far off in the distance. I want him to come in here expecting to play nine innings every day and to get better and continue to work and be as good as he can defensively.

Stay healthy (and) when it comes time to play ballgames and stuff, well figure out all that. Ive got other issues that are way ahead of that.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.