You may recall the reception the Cubs’ starting lineup received when it was announced on Opening Night to kick off the 2015 season against the Cardinals. In the event you don’t, though, it was nicely summed up in this tweet from @CespedesBBQ:
“Batting 2nd Jorge Soler Crowd:? “Batting 3rd Anthony Rizzo Crowd:? “Batting 4th Starlin Castro Crowd:? “Batting 5th Chris Coghlan Crowd:?
— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) April 5, 2015
Amidst the fanfare for much-hyped prospects and young stars, Chris Coghlan, even after a productive 2014, was an underwhelming choice as the Opening Day Left Fielder. But here we are, four months later, with Coghlan situated as the everyday Second Baseman and three-hole hitter. It’s a fact nobody would have anticipated at the start of the season and one that Coghlan, himself, probably could not have fathomed when he signed a minor league contract with the Cubs before Spring Training in 2014.
Coghlan was drafted by the Florida Marlins 36th overall in the 2006 MLB Draft. In his time through the minors, he switched around positions, playing Second Base, Third Base and, eventually, becoming groomed for work in Left and Center Field. Called up to the majors in May 2009, Coghlan struggled for a few months until really heating up in August, hitting .388/.442/.547 from August 1 until the end of the 2009 season. For his efforts, Coghlan was named the NL Rookie of the Year.
But Coghlan’s performance didn’t last. In 2010, his numbers decreased to .268/.335/.383 in a shortened year due to injuring his knee delivering a pie to the face of teammate Wes Helms (Wow, please don’t do that again).
After hitting .230/.296/.368 and being sidelined with another knee injury, 2011 was a mess as well.
2012? Even worse: A .140/.212/.183 line in 39 games in the majors until getting sent to AAA.
Although his 70 games in the 2013 season were not as disastrous as his three previous years (.256/.318/.354), the Marlins, seeing an upcoming wave of outfield talent arriving in the forms of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, cut ties with Coghlan following the season.
There was free agent Chris Coghlan, a former Rookie of the Year, whose career looked in jeopardy after failing to return to form following years of injuries and ineffectiveness. The exact type of guy Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer wanted to invite to Cubs Spring Training.
But here’s the thing: Coghlan didn’t even look good then. In Spring Training 2014, he hit .224 in 49 at bats. Although the sample size is miniscule, Ryan Kalish, an outfielder in a similar situation used his 46 at bats to hit .304, make an impression and make the 2014 club out of the gate.
Once the season started, Coghlan still wasn’t looking good in his 24 games at Iowa, hitting .243/.379/.314 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
So, whatever compelled the Cubs to bring him up on May 3 to replace the injured Ryan Sweeney will remain a mystery to me.
Just like in his rookie season, Coghlan’s first few months back in the bigs were not good. From his call up in May until the end of June, Coghlan hit a measly .204/.281/.330 with a low BABIP. But for the final months of the year, Coghlan got hit by some positive BABIP regression – jumping from .247 to .312. His slash line rose to .283/.352/.452 and he suddenly gathered 2.4 WAR. 2014 Coghlan had finally made his impression and demonstrated he could be valuable yet again.
While replacing Coghlan was kicked around during the offseason, Left Field was suddenly not a huge concern. In 2015, the Cubs were not really expected to compete and could get away with only a slightly above average Left Fielder.
While Coghlan’s 2015 slash line is not super impressive at .246/.333/.411, his BABIP of .273 suggests he is actually playing better than his results show. This is critical when realizing the lineup crunch the Cubs were recently faced with as Kyle Schwarber continued hitting at a high level but was being bumped from the Catcher spot with Miguel Montero returning from injury.
Then there was Starlin Castro, the three-time All-Star having a terrible season and with a capable replacement in Addison Russell playing right next to him. The Cubs’ move to bench Castro was seen as a “Rookies over Castro” move, but it really should be heralded as a “Coghlan over Castro move.” The team felt Coghlan’s bat was more productive than Castro’s and opted to demonstrate creativity by returning him to his very old position of Second Base.
When you think about it, Chris Coghlan at just 30 years old has had a fascinating career. Coghlan’s been a first round pick, the Rookie of the Year, injured by hurling a pie, an injury-prone bust, a minor leaguer, a replacement level bat, and now, a utility player bumping a three-time All Star on the team with the fourth best record in the game.
Seems safe to say he deserved more praise from the Wrigley fans on Opening Night. If he keeps producing for the rest of this season, they’ll be sure to make up for it.
Photo by Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune.