Commentary

Defense needs to stretch

Byrd's range will go long way in improving Cubs' defense in 2010

Updated: March 31, 2010, 2:26 PM ET
By Bruce Levine | ESPNChicago.com

Marlon ByrdAP Photo/Tony DejakMarlon Byrd has shown a good arm and decent range in center field this spring.

"The Cubs didn't look bad on defense last year, but if you watch them enough, you would see they didn't get to too many balls, which really hurt their pitching." -- A National League advance scout on the 2009 Chicago Cubs.

Although the 2009 Cubs' fielding percentage of .983 was only the fourth-worst in the National League, the Cubs' defensive range was considered well below-average. Starting with the outfield, Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley were hard to watch on a daily basis, just because they seemed to be moving in slow motion when a ball came their way.

Last year's team defense began to crumble after third baseman Aramis Ramirez suffered a separated shoulder in May. After that, the team's infield defense wasn't much better than the outfield. Only Derrek Lee's stellar defense at first base saved the team from being a total disaster on defense.

Credit should be thrown the way of shortstop Ryan Theriot and coaches Alan Trammell and Ivan DeJesus, who worked tirelessly with the Cubs' shortstop, helping him improve his balance and throwing angle throughout the season. Second base wasn't a spectacular position for the Cubs, either, though Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker handled the position adequately. Behind the plate, the enlarged version of Geovany Soto was a total failure both offensively and defensively. Luckily for the Cubs, backup Koyie Hill stepped in and did an above-average job with the pitchers.

Free agent Marlon Byrd may set the tone all by himself for better defense on the North Side in 2010. The former Texas outfielder has shown a good arm and decent range in center field, something that has been lacking at that position for a long time. Byrd is sure to cover some of the gaps between center field and left field, where Soriano usually plays.

Although Soriano's heart is into playing defense, his legs and his range seem to not be able to cooperate. In right field, Fukudome returns to his natural position, where he should be average to above-average. In 2008 and '09, Fukudome displayed an above-average throwing arm. This spring, the Cubs' coaching staff had some concerns with Fukudome's lack of arm strength. Looking at 2010, Ramirez and Lee are the only potential Gold Glove candidates in the infield. Ramirez, a very underrated third baseman, should have won two or three Gold Gloves already. He is extremely steady at the hot corner.

The Cubs are hoping that Theriot and Fontenot can be adequate at their positions. Neither has a lot of range or a strong arm. Both certainly give you everything they have, but regardless, they come up a tad short due to ability. Soto has looked phenomenal behind the plate this spring, moving quicker and blocking pitches better than he ever has. Soto's dedication to losing 30 pounds in the offseason has helped his defense dramatically. Hill is a solid backup who led the National League in throwing out 40 percent of would-be base stealers in 2009.

As for the bench, backup infielders Jeff Baker and Chad Tracy are adequate replacements in a short-term situation. Outfielders Xavier Nady and Tyler Colvin are average; however, Nady is still recovering from elbow-ligament replacement in his right arm and will be a liability early in the season because of his limited throwing range.

Cubs' Solid D Equals Wins: Byrd catches everything that comes in his direction and waves off Soriano by taking most of his action.

The Iron Glove Haunts Wrigley Field: Cubs' overall defense doesn't improve and innings are extended due to lack of range and clanking mitts.

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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