by Adam Serink
The outfield for the Chicago Cubs of 2016 looks outstanding. Names like Heyward, Schwarber, Soler, and even Zobrist likely will highlight the lineup card for years to come. But there is another name that Cubs fans should get used to hearing, if they aren’t already – Chris Coghlan.
On January 15, 2014, the Chicago Cubs signed Chris Coghlan to a minor league deal including an invite to Spring Training. Coghlan had been drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft by the Florida Marlins, and he continued to dazzle throughout his minor league career. He earned his first major league call up in May of 2009, and it seemed like Coghlan would not see the minors ever again. That year, Coghlan hit nine home runs, and drove in forty-seven runs, with an impressive slash line of .321/.390/.460. With that impressive display, Chris beat out such names as JA Happ, Andrew McCutchen, and Dexter Fowler for the 2009 Rookie of the Year honour. It seemed like the Marlins had something special, and without a doubt, they believed Coghlan would be their next star.
Late 2013 – After the impressive debut season, the major leagues caught up with Chris. He managed to slash .242/.307/.352 with the Marlins for the remainder of his tenure with the major league team. Injuries caught up with Coghlan, and over those four seasons following his outstanding debut season, he managed to play in only 265 major league games. The Coghlan of 2009 was gone, and the Marlins’ organization, and fan base had realized that. He had been optioned to the minor leagues numerous times, and his lingering injury problems turned off most everybody. Within four years, Coghlan had went from being a potential star with the Marlins, to a minor league castaway. And in late 2013, the Marlins called it quits. They pulled the plug on the ”Chris Coghlan Experiment”. He was not tendered a contract for the following year, therefore, making him a free agent for the first time in his career. Could this have possibly been the end of a career that once had so much promise? Possibly so. But it never did come to that.
When the Chicago Cubs signed Coghlan. he was expected to challenge names such as Schierholtz, Lake, Sweeney, and Ruggiano for a spot in the outfield. And when the time came to pick who stayed, and who went, Coghlan, with his .224 average throughout the spring, did not appeal to Theo and Jed, leading to their decision of sending him down to AAA Iowa. In his twenty four games played in Iowa, Coghlan hit for only a .243 average, but put together a stellar on-base percentage at .379, while jumping around the field at all three outfield positions, and multiple innings logged at first base. He showed strong versatility and was it possible that Coghlan had yet again found himself? It sure seemed that way.
On May 3, 2014, Ryan Sweeney strained his right hamstring, as he almost regularly managed to do. The corresponding move was made, and Chris Coghlan was added to the roster. May 4th was Coghlan’s debut in Cubbie blue, and there was nothing note-worthy about it, to say the least. Actually, from his Cubs’ debut until July 6, Coghlan looked like he was lost. He was overmatched, out of place, and it seemed like it was soon to be the end for Cogs and his tenure with the team. Through his first fifty games played as a Cub, Coghlan started twenty seven games, with a slash line of .229/.303/.356. Many had lost hope in Chris, but Rick Renteria was not one of those people. Coghlan’s playing time increased, he received more at bats, starts, and eventually, Ricky’s experiment worked – Coghlan was looking good out there.
On July 7, Chris Coghlan had himself a game. He went four-for-five, with two doubles, a stolen base, and two runs scored. With one game, his batting average shot up twenty three points, and it sparked a resurgence in his career, where he initially was at the point many believed it was over for him. With that one game, Coghlan began to play with great frequency, and his numbers began to go up as well. After one game, Coghlan had become a feared hitter yet again in Major League Baseball, marking a major comeback in a career that just months prior had looked so bleak. From July 8th, onward, Coghlan looked like a new man at the plate. Whether it was Renteria’s persistence, or Coghlan’s mentality, something had changed with Chris. He was blazing hot. He hit .307, with thirty four extra base hits from July 8th, until the end of the season, Coghlan had been one of the best bats the Cubs could’ve asked for. They had found a type of player they needed in the worst way – a lefty bat, who could play everywhere in the field, steal bases, take great at bats, and get on base more than most. It was no shocker to see that Chris had been named the Opening Night starter for the 2015 season, this time by the new manager, Joe Maddon. The Cubs showed a lot of confidence in their new left fielder that they salvaged from the trash heap, and turned into something special.
A player such as Coghlan likely appeals greatly to a manager like Joe Maddon. His hard-nosed, tough playing style, while not flashy, or as appealing to the typical fan is beneficial to the team. The newly found power stroke and defensive versatility, while maintaining strong on-base skills, could open up a new door for Coghlan, who could potentially become a player similar to new teammate, Ben Zobrist, and Maddon would be the manager help him accomplish that. Do not expect to see Coghlan’s name in the lineup every day, but expect him to be a quietly productive member of the 2016 Chicago Cubs, and a player who could earn a nice contract after the season.