Cubs still wide open with leadoff spot in 2019: ‘If somebody wants to take it, take it'


MESA, Ariz. — Rickey Henderson isn't coming through that door for the Cubs, no matter how much Joe Maddon would like it.

Dexter Fowler isn't, either.

Almost three years to the day since Fowler surprised everybody by walking onto the backfield at Cubs camp in Arizona, the Cubs are still searching for his replacement — a "you go, we go" presence atop the order. 

The Cubs won't have just one guy in that spot in 2019, as Maddon will continue to mix and match with options atop the order. 

It will again to come down to matchups, as Maddon pointed to how Ben Zobrist is a great fit against right-handed pitchers while Albert Almora Jr. is a good bet as the leadoff hitter against lefties. It's also about a need to jumpstart the offense at times, hence why "The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All-Time" Anthony Rizzo has been put into that spot at various points over the last couple years.

"It's always wonderful to pen one name in there," Maddon said. "Absolutely. I'll never deny that. When Dexter was around, that was outstanding — just put it in there and work from there. But when you don't have it, you try to mix and match it. 

"On-base percentage is huge. Seeing pitches is huge. But I also like a guy that knows how to drive in a run later in the game because here comes 8-9-1, the latter part of a National League game — hitting a pitcher 8th or 9th — it can bleed into an RBI situation.

"It's one of those things where I'd like to have it all. But I say primarily looking for somebody that gets on base, that's a little bit more patient. ... We have all these different candidates. It's gonna look that way again. People tend to get confused — they see different names and think it's not effective, but it was rather effective last year."

Maddon is right.

Even with that second-half fade from the overall offense, Cubs leadoff hitters still combined to lead the National League in average, on-base percentage and wRC (weighted runs created) and finished second in OPS and fifth in slugging percentage.

Last year, Almora was the clubhouse leader in the top spot, with 46 starts (though most came against lefties). Rizzo finished second (31 starts) and Daniel Murphy was third (30), as he started nearly every game he played in a Cubs uniform leading off.

Last spring, there was so much made about Ian Happ going into the new season as "the guy" in the spot, and things got off to a great start when he sent the very first pitch of the season into the right-field bleachers at Marlins Park on Opening Day.

But Happ only started another 6 games in that spot as he went through some early-season struggles in his sophomore year.

It was not all that dissimilar to 2017, when Kyle Schwarber was being labeled the new leadoff hitter in spring, only to eventually struggle to live up to that spot and endure a season of inconsistent offensive performance.

So Maddon won't tab anybody as "the guy" this spring, instead continuing to keep it a revolving door unless somebody steps up. He's open to the possibility that one of the guys currently on the roster grows into that stable, consistent leadoff hitter.

"Of course, but I don't know who that is yet," Maddon said. "We still have a lot of young hitters finding their way. I thought Schwarber for sure a couple years ago was a lock — I really did. Just based on his ability to see pitches and I was basing that more on on-base percentage, setting the table up and again, coming around the next time, hitting with somebody on base.

"Albert has shown to be really good with lefties up there, Zo has shown very good against righties. I'm wide open. If somebody wants to take it, it's yours — take it. But for me right now, I'm expecting to move it around again."

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