For the first two months of the 2008 campaign, rookie Kosuke Fukudome was the talk of baseball. The left hand hitting star out of Japan was drawing rave reviews from baseball people because of his ability to get on base, work deep counts, and hit for a solid average. Fukudome appeared to be the left handed bat the Cubs had been lacking for years as his mere presence seemed to solidify the lineup.
However, somewhere along the line, it all went wrong for Fukudome. After the all-star break, Fukudome only hit .217 with 3 HR and a very concerning .314 OBP. He looked over matched at the plate and those quality at bats that baseball folks raved about in the beginning of the season soon evaporated. The Cubs lineup became stacked with right handed hitters and lost that vital balance they sought to achieve by adding the left handed Fukudome.
By the end of the season, Fukudome began losing at bats to Reed Johnson, Mike Fontenot, and Mark DeRosa. Questions began to rise about Fukudome's long term potential with the Cubs.
2009 is a very important season for Fukudome. He needs to show the world that the struggles of 2008 are behind him and that he is a better player than he showed during the second half. Is he for real or nothing more than a defensive replacement?
In addition, the Cubs are counting on Fukudome to produce. Their lineup is filled with stars and quality players, but it is Fukudome who the Cubs need to come through. The Cubs need the first half Fukudome, the guy who worked pitchers to death and got on base at will. This kind of production will give the Cubs one of the deepest and most feared lineups in baseball.
However, if Fukudome fails to live up to the massive expectations put before him, expect Cubs manager Lou Piniella to act quickly by inserting Reed Johnson into the lineup more frequently. Johnson is a quality fourth outfielder and would be starting on most teams, which underscores just how talented Johnson is. Fukudome needs to produce to ensure that Johnson will not steal away more of his at bats.
The spotlight's on, Kosuke Fukudome.
What do you think, will Fukudome produce in 2009?
*Coming up tomorrow, the Houston Astros.*