Spring Training is underway and of course there are already some headlines. The Cubs biggest free agent signing leaves a game with quad tenderness and Sean Marshall looks like he means business as the Cubs No. 5 starter. But what stands out most to me so far is Micah Hoffpauir.
All last season Cub fans just wanted more and more of Micah Hoffpauir. He'd be called up and sent back down regularly and we all itched to see him get more at-bats. He had a couple of huge games down the stretch when the Cubs eased up after clinching. Oh and that's right, he's left-handed.
So there's only one problem with seeing a lot more of Hoffpauir: Derrek Lee.
I used to subscribe to the school of "Nobody doesn't like Derrek Lee," but I'm beginning to have my doubts. In a season where the Cubs will contend again, it doesn't seem likely that Lee would get traded, but he's aging and he hasn't even been the same player since the wrist and back injuries--no more longball, way more double-play balls. At 29, Hoffpauir is a rookie at the age a typical player would be hitting his prime and the window of opportunity for him to do so might be smaller than most players.
My guess is that Hoffpauir will slide into the role of this year's younger, more versatile Daryle Ward, the left-handed power pinch-hitter off the bench, but it would be a shame if that were all. It's apparent that Lou Piniella has the confidence in Hoffpauir to sub in on any day where Lee might need a rest, but I say he should be resting with some more regularity, especially if he doesn't succeed at mechanically improving himself at the plate from the second half of last season.
I'm not talking about a platoon at first base, but a regular sub-in. Maybe one game in every other series at the least. That will give Hoffpauir the chance to prove himself and the Cubs to show off a lefty-featured lineup when opposing teams least expect it. As for putting him in the outfield, the Cubs have a handful of subs to fill in for injuries that will likely occur in some measure to either Alfonso Soriano or Milton Bradley. It would be best not to rely on that for finding a way to get Hoffpauir in the game.
Although first base is far from the Cubs' worries, it will be a pivotal position of much discussion in the future. For now, it's apparent this guy deserves more time on the field and especially at the plate.