Fukudome likened to Ichiro-Matsui hybrid
MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago is anxious to extend its hands and hearts to Kosuke Fukudome. If he fulfills the hype, there will be an abundance of standing ovations, Wrigley Field curtain calls and laudatory Jay Mariotti columns coming his way over the next several months.But as Fukudome nears the end of his first week in a Major League Baseball clubhouse, even the most erudite, well-educated Cubs could use a primer on how to relate to their new teammate.
Left fielder Matt Murton, a former Georgia Tech management major, readily concedes that he doesn't know a word of Japanese."I took Spanish in school," Murton said, "but that doesn't even help me with the Latin American guys in here. I got A's and B's all the way through [school], and I still don't know what I'm talking about."
My strength is, when I make a mistake I forget about it very quickly and prepare for the next play or the next pitch.
Fukudome hit two home runs for Japan at the World Baseball Classic in 2006, and had the look of a player who's comfortable on a big stage."He likes the action," Hendry said. That's good, because Fukudome will be scrutinized more thoroughly than Kelvin Sampson's phone bill once he arrives in Chicago.
Fukudome fills several needs for the Cubs, who ranked eighth in the National League in runs scored last year while generating almost no power from the left side. Cliff Floyd and Jacque Jones, the team's top lefty power threats, combined to hit 14 homers in 735 at-bats.After trading Jones to Detroit and declining Floyd's 2008 option, the Cubs were intent on finding an athletic, lefty-hitting right fielder with plate discipline and extra-base pop. Hendry was prepared to assemble a package of young players to pursue a trade for Oakland's Nick Swisher if necessary. But when the Cubs beat out Texas, the White Sox, San Francisco and San Diego for Fukudome, Hendry had his man. Fukudome's willingness to work deep counts makes him a welcome addition to a Chicago lineup that embodies the word "aggressive." Last year the Cubs were tied for 25th among the 30 big league teams in walks. They also displayed a hack-first and ask-questions-later mentality as a rule. According to Stats Inc., the Cubs swung at 46.9 percent of the pitches they saw last season. That made them the 22nd most selective team in the majors. Fukudome posted an on-base percentage of .430 or better in each of his last three seasons with the Chunichi Dragons, and Piniella loves the thought of hitting him second between Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee. More likely, Fukudome will bat in the No. 5 hole, where he'll break up Chicago's logjam of right-handed bats. Mechanically speaking, the Cubs like what they see. Piniella watched Fukudome in the batting cage for the first time Friday and was struck by his new right fielder's "prototypically American" approach. Fukudome employs your basic squared-up stance, in contrast to Ichiro, whose legs are halfway to first base while his hands magically linger in the hitting zone.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Morry GashKosuke Fukudome, left, shares a laugh with Esmailin Caridad, who spent the 2007 season with the Hiroshima Carp.
Fukudome's personality also seems ideal for the mania he will generate as the Cubs' first Japanese player. While Ichiro can be cryptic and distant with the press corps and Matsui is gregarious as a rule, Fukudome falls somewhere in the middle. He's soft-spoken and understated, but smiles easily and likes to mingle -- even after workouts, when he signs baseballs and tosses them to fans over a chain-link fence at Fitch Park.Fukudome receives help in interviews from interpreter Ryuji Araki, a former minor league trainer in the Cincinnati Reds' chain, and has no difficulty articulating his thoughts.
Last 5 seasons in Japan
Year BA HR 2007 .294 13* 2006 .351 31 2005 .328 28 2004 .277 23 2003 .312 34 *Appeared in only 81 games due to elbow injury
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