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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cubs Preview 3/26/08

Roster Spot #6- RF- Kosuke Fukudome #1 (Kohs-kay Foo-koo-dough-may)
Ht: 6'0'' Wt: 190 Bats: Left Throws: Right

Insert obligatory samurai/zen-like concentration caption.

Enter the Fukudome. Since signing with the Cubs in November Fukudome has become the big story of the 2008 season. That and that whole century thing. You know the thing where its been 100 years since the Cubs won the World Series? Oh, you hadn't heard that? Me neither. Fukudome has proven popular with Cubs fans already, as many fans can be seen at spring training games wearing his #1 shirt with his last name written in Japanese Kanji script. Fukudome has also become quite popular with his teammates, who have pulled a variety of pranks on him ranging from Zambrano putting on his #1 jersey and telling Kosuke that he is #1 around the Cubs to Scott Eyre leaving a cheeseburger (?) next to his locker. What can you say, he's Scott Eyre. Cheeseburgers are apparently the only things he understands. Fukudome's name has also led to much fun for the Cubs blogosphere, as he's earned such nicknames as Fukakke (Desipio), K-Fuk (Hire Jim Essian!), and Fukker (Iggins!).

So we've established that Fukudome is now a pop culture icon for Chicago fans? But what about the player himself. Well, last year he hit .297 with 13 hrs and 48 RBIs and a .443 (!) OBP for the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League. Due to bone chips in his elbow requiring surgery, Fukudome put up those numbers in only 81 games last year. For those of you unable to do the math to figure that into a full 162 game schedule, that amounts to 26 homers and 96 RBIs (get it, you multiply by two). That followed a 2006 season where Fukudome was Cental League MVP after hitting .351 with 31 hrs and 104 RBIs with a .438 OBP in 130 games. For his career Fukudome has a lifetime .397 OBP, and has posted OBPs of .400 or better in 4 of the last 5 seasons. He is also a Gold Glove outfielder in Japan with a cannon for an arm. Exhibit A:
In the words of Iggins!, "commence the pants-shitting".

But what can Cubs fans expect in this first season out of Fukudome in the United States? Japanese hitters play in smaller ballparks and Japanese imports Hideki Matsui, Kaz Matsui, and Hideki Okajima all saw declines in their power numbers once they came to America. Personally I do not believe the power drop will be all that drastic for Fukudome playing at Wrigley Field, and see him putting up 20-25 home runs. But even if he falls below the 20 mark, if his average and OBP remain at his Japan levels he will still be extremely valuable to the Cubs lineup. Even as his spring training average has hovered around .230 Kosuke has still put up a very impressive .406 OBP in 19 games, so Cubs fans can still look forward to seeing Fukudome on base even as he adjusts his hitting style to the Majors.

Fukudome was the Cubs most important free agent acquisition in what was a rather quiet off-season for them, and he will be a huge factor in deciding what the team does in 2008. If he follows the Hideki, and not Kaz, Matsui route, the $48 million deal he signed with the Cubs will look like a bargain. If he fails, then he'll be the latest goat in 100 years of frustration. (I know, I said goat. guh.)

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