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Levine: Cubs Leadoff Man/Center Fielder An Offseason Priority

By Bruce Levine--

(CBS) --The top of the batting order is where all offense begins. In the case of the Chicago Cubs, an on-base percentage type leadoff man will be an essential need to address in the off season. With power bats making their way to the Cubs big league club, table setters will be more important than ever to identify.

The Cubs have an on-base percentage of .302 from the first batter in their lineup this season. That is the fourth worst on-base percentage in the National League. That number has only gone down since the trade of Emillio Bonifacio in July. After a very hot start to the season Bonifacio was lost to injury for three weeks and never really regained his April and May on-base ability that spiked the Cub offense early in the year.

The team has experimented with Arismendy Alcantatra leading off in recent games. Alcantara does have the speed element you would like at the top of your order. The rookie has seven stolen bases, which is a good number for the amount of games he has played in the big leagues. The less than ideal number for the young and versatile infielder/outfielder is the lack of bases on balls which usually indicates a low on-base percentage.

"I would hope he can improve there," said manager Rickey Renteria, when asked if Alcantara can improve on his on-base percentage. "He was able to do it in the minor leagues. The league average on-base is around .315. We have guys who started this year at .330, so we are above league average with certain people. Do I think it should be better? Sure in the prototypical world. I think that will come with experience and time."

The Cubs manager may be correct. Coming into 2014 Alcantara had a .334 lifetime minor league on base percentage. He has a .266 on-base percentage in the major leagues so far.

The Cubs can look to free agency as a temporary quick fix in this crucial offense area if they choose to go that route. At the top of the free agent list may be Melky Cabrera followed by Denard Span, who has a $9 million club option by Nationals, Bonifacio who once again hits the free agent road, Alberto Callaspo and Colby Rasmus. Of that group, only Rasmus and Span are true center fielders. Span has a .351 career on-base average to consider if Washington does not pick up the option.

Bringing in a temporary fix may be the right way to go with Albert Almora coming through the minor league system. After putting up an on base percentage of .376 in 2013, Almora slumped at two levels in a number of offensive stats including a free fall in on-base percentage in 2014, at .291 combined at Single and Double A. The organization still believes that Almora will be an excellent player in the big leagues and that 2014 was just a minor glitch in his development program.

Alcantara will get most of the at bats leading off the rest of the season, Renteria intimated on Sunday.

"I don't really care where they bat me," said Alcantara." I hope to improve my at bats no matter where I hit."
Going toward 2014 and barring a deal or free agent signing, it could be that Alcantara is the leadoff man center fielder that the Cubs are looking for in 2015.

"It doesn't hurt us see him as much as we can (leading off)," Renteria said. "We can watch him and observe how he handles his at bats. We know he has the speed to be a top of the order type guy. We also know that he has a history in the minor leagues of getting on base. There is nothing that says he can't do it here (major leagues)."

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