Who Will Bat Cleanup for the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day in 2012? Fan’s Preview

Who will be the cleanup hitter for the Chicago Cubs when opening day rolls around in 2012? Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena weren't re-signed this offseason. They only have one player from last season who hit more than 17 home runs. One could argue that their catcher is the second-best power hitter on the MLB roster.

It's hard to see any of the following players being inserted into the No. 4 spot in the batting order. Somebody must do it though.

No. 5: Marlon Byrd

2011 stats:

446 at-bats, .276 batting average, nine home runs, 35 RBI, .395 slugging percentage, .719 OPS.

Summary:

Marlon Byrd had a .198 batting average with three home runs and 26 RBI in 131 at-bats with runners-in-scoring-position (RISP) in 2011. Byrd only had three home runs in 254 combined at-bats as a No. 3 hitter and a No. 5 hitter. He was never the cleanup hitter.

I can't see Byrd being used any higher than No. 5.

No. 4: Starlin Castro

2011 stats:

674 at-bats, .307 batting average, 10 home runs, 66 RBI, .432 slugging percentage, .773 OPS.

Summary:

Starlin Castro has evolved into one of MLB's best leadoff hitters. However, Castro's batting average was more than .100 points lower when he was hitting No. 3 last season. His slugging percentage was approximately .130 points lower.

The Cubs already have David DeJesus and Brett Jackson who could be leadoff hitters. Castro should also develop more power as he becomes more comfortable with major-league pitching. Regardless, I'd be stunned to see Castro hitting lower than No. 3 (That means No.1, No. 2 or No. 3).

No. 3: Bryan LaHair

2011 Stats:

59 at-bats, .288 batting average, two home runs, six RBI, .508 slugging percentage, .885 OPS.

Summary:

The Cubs are using a sample size of 195 career MLB at-bats from Bryan LaHair as they make him their stopgap option at first base. LaHair has five home runs and a .730 OPS since 2008.

Asking LaHair to be the cleanup hitter is a lot when one considers that he was labeled as a career minor-league player fewer than six months ago. LaHair never received any at-bats as a cleanup hitter last September. I can't believe that he'd start batting cleanup when every team has been reset to 0-0 in the standings. Maybe if he has an incredible spring training?

No. 2: Geovany Soto

2011 Stats

­421 at-bats, .228 batting average, 17 home runs, 54 RBI, .411 slugging percentage, .721 OPS.

Summary

As silly as this sounds, Geovany Soto is one of two players who has the best chance of becoming the cleanup hitter on opening day. Soto is one of two players who hit more than 15 home runs last season. Soto hit .292 with one home run in 24 at-bats as a cleanup hitter.

The problem is that 12 of those 17 home runs were solo home runs. Soto only hit .202 with one home run in 114 at-bats with RISP. He only hit .194 with runners on base in 201 at-bats. Soto's numbers were visibly better when he wasn't faced with clutch-hitting situations.

No. 1: Alfonso Soriano

2011 Stats

­475 at-bats, .244 batting average, 26 home runs, 88 RBI, .469 slugging percentage, .759 OPS.

Summary

Alfonso Soriano is the player who many fans would like to run out of town. Yet, he could be the favorite as the opening-day cleanup hitter. Soriano had 88 RBI despite being used as a No. 6 hitter and a No. 7 hitter for most of the season.

Soriano did have an alarming trend where his numbers plummeted as he was raised in the batting order. He only hit .214 with three home runs and 18 RBI in 84 at-bats as the No. 5 hitter. Soriano was never used as a cleanup hitter.

Conclusion:

Soriano or Soto could inflate their RBI numbers if they were used as cleanup hitters because they'd have more opportunities to drive Castro in. That could increase their value before the July trading deadline. That's just another reason for why the younger hitters don't have to be rushed into cleanup duties by 2012.

Maybe With An Impressive Spring Training?

Ian Stewart

Anthony Rizzo

Joshua Huffman grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula as a Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs enthusiast. He immediately gained an admiration for Cubs fans after watching numerous games on WGN during the mid-90s. His favorite Cubs moment was Kerry Wood's(notes) 1-hitter, 20K extravaganza that was only denied of a no-hitter by Kevin Orie's defensive blunder. As a Packers and Cubs fan, he suffered through Steve Bartman and "4th & 26" in a span of three months.

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Joshua Huffman is a member of the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
Updated Friday, Feb 10, 2012