Marlon Byrd is the word in Boston, but we know how that tune goes by now. Once the BABIP (.091) stabilizes, he’ll put together a good batting average (.278 career) with home run and stolen base numbers that shouldn’t add up to 20. The move to Fenway won’t help him hit more home runs, since the right-handed park factor for dongers in Chicago is 102 and it drops to 94 in Fenway, but that really isn’t Byrd’s game most years. Instead, look for the 132 PF for doubles from righties in Fenway to help augment their new center fielders’ batting average.
But, as usual, the more interesting situation is the one left behind on the rebuilding squad. You know what Tony Campana has coming to him? The world, Chico, and everything in it. (Or a one-month shot at staking out the center field job for himself, it could just be that.)
It’s a guarantee that deep leaguers should go get Campana if they need speed. First you get the regulars off the wire, then you trade for better ones, and then you get the league championship shirt. At the very least, he’s now one of four capable outfielders on the roster (five if you count Jeff Baker). Alfonso Soriano, Reed Johnson and David DeJesus are not center fielders, and Campana is. Even if the team calls up Anthony Rizzo and pushes Bryan LaHair to the outfield, that fact is still true.
Will Joe Mather be a roadblock? After all, he made the team over Campana in the spring. One thing, though, if you wanna go to war, Campana will take you to war, okay? And in that war, Mather comes to the table with no above-average skill whatsoever. Given some of his Minor League walk rates, there’s a possibility that he could walk at an above-average rate, but he’s never done that in the majors. He’s also played twice as many innings on the corners than in center, so it seems that teams haven’t been super comfortable with his glove there for whatever reason. He probably made the team over Campana because he can play a little third base and the Cubs may have been worried about that position going into the season.
So it looks like Campana, who has played 219.2 of his 315 defensive innings in center field, is the new center fielder for the Cubs. Does he have a chance at mixed-league relevance?
Unfortunately Campana has no power or patience, and that will hurt him. He walked 7.5% of the time and had an isolated slugging percentage of .051 — neither number inspires confidence that he can be a well-rounded player in the Major Leagues. Add in a strikeout rate close to league average (17.2% in the minors) and you have a guy that will slap the ball on the ground and try to fly his way into value. He won’t hit you home runs. He won’t put up a plus batting average.
But if we want to play rough with him, we have to say hello to his little friends: those wheels of steal. He stole 66 bases in 2009, 48 in 2010 and 32 in 284 plate appearances last season. He’s a burner, and he should continue to be in the Major Leagues. If you can afford taking a hit everywhere else — and it will be everywhere else, given the lineup around him and his afore-mentioned power and patience problems — and just need a guy that would steal more than 40 bases given a full season, then he can play for your team.
Don’t let him get too comfortable though. Brett Jackson is (maybe) the center fielder of the future. He was tasked with going back to Triple-A and striking out less, but he’s the guy with everything else. He has the glove for the position, a plus-plus walk rate, power, and speed. He’s got that strikeout rate down to 26.9% from last year’s untenable 29.8%, but both numbers are a problem, honestly. Only five qualified players in baseball (out of a pool of 145) had a worse strikeout rate than either number, and that was in the Major Leagues. Then again, one of them was Austin Jackson, so Campana’s time may be limited if Jackson can show just a little more improvement at the plate.
Given all of his offensive limitations, and the existence of a more intriguing prospect behind him, Campana will probably be a limited-time starting feature that will end up moving to the back screens (and a fourth outfielder job) eventually. But if the Cubs are interested in playing him daily in order to pump his value up for a trade later, this Cubby outfielder might run his way on to your fantasy team. You’ll be watching his back as he tears up the basepaths — it’s much easier than watching his front.