Fox Playing the Hand He's Dealt

When Jake Fox departed from Phoenix en route to Class AAA Iowa back in late August, he left the Cubs' big league team in Arizona with nothing but the clothes on his back. In all truthfulness, he didn't even have those.

Fox arrived back in Triple-A on Aug. 25 after being sent down from Chicago. He had just touched down from a long flight from Phoenix to New Orleans that had put him in the city and en route to the park only 90 minutes prior to that night's game.

"I'm wearing everybody else's stuff because my suitcase didn't make it with me," Fox had said prior to the game.

When Fox was sent to Triple-A with a little over a week remaining in the minor league season, it might have seemed like an ideal conclusion that he'd rejoin the Chicago team once rosters expanded in September.

Come early September, though, Fox was nowhere to be found in Chicago.

Another solid season with that bat, coupled with his major league debut, was not enough for September call-up honors in the eyes of his parent club.

"It's nothing personal, just business," as they say.

The business side of it was that the Cubs felt they already had enough right-handed hitters on the team, and that was the reason Fox was sent down in the first place.

"It was a situation where there were some right-handed bats there at the time," said Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita. "When he first got called up, we didn't have Craig Monroe, a guy who had played down the stretch and had gotten a chance to play in the playoffs last year and had had experience with the Detroit Tigers."

"It was nothing against him. (Cubs manager) Lou (Piniella) thought he had enough players and didn't need the extra bat," added Fleita.

The other, smaller part of it was that the Cubs did not feel comfortable using all of the additional roster spots that September provides.

"We thought the number was right," said Fleita.

The only number the Cubs are concerned with now is the Magic Number: 3.

A combination of three Cubs victories or three Milwaukee Brewers losses between now and the end of the season would ensure Chicago's first trip to the postseason in four years. (Considering the combined record of the Cubs' final two regular season opponents, surely that should not be too hard to come by.)

But for Fox, who batted .284 with 24 home runs and 79 RBIs in 116 games between Iowa and Class AA Tennessee, it must have stung a little bit not to be invited back in time for the late-season playoff push, right? Not necessarily.

"I know they needed room for Monroe, and this is the time of year where they've got to rely on a lot of veterans," said Fox. "They're trying to win a division and they're trying to do what's best for the team. I guess collectively they felt that that was what was best for the team. It's not for me to comment on that."

Fox still remains with the parent club on the 40-man roster, though, and he also remains in good spirits, or so it would seem.

As his season came to a close at Triple-A, Fox said his only focus was "to have fun and let everything else fall into place."

The 25-year-old Fox was selected by the Cubs in the third round of the 2003 draft from Michigan in the Big Ten. He had been a fixture at catcher up until late last season when he began to see some reps in the outfield at Double-A.

This season, most of Fox's starts came at the corner outfield spots with a few reps at first base. With Chicago, he made three starts – all in right field.

Fox isn't ready to throw away his catching gear just yet, although it's hard to imagine anyone jumping past Geovany Soto (the 2007 Pacific Coast League MVP and Cubs Minor League Player of the Year) as "Catcher of the Future" at this stage.

Getting to the big leagues as an outfielder may not be any easier for Fox. The Cubs have plenty of depth there, too, including consensus top prospect Felix Pie.

Just the same, Fox is confident about his chances of becoming a future major league player and says he is pleased with the work both offensively and defensively. (He contributed six assists from the outfield this past season and committed one error.)

"The outfield has been pretty easy and a smooth transition," said Fox. "I feel like I can hold my own out there. Am I going to be the greatest outfielder right now? Probably not, but once I get that experience and some time under my belt, I'll be able to do a great job out there and be able to play well enough to where I can be an everyday player for a club. That's the goal."

It just won't happen right now. Maybe next year, though, and it would appear that Fox has left a good impression on Piniella, starting in Spring Training when the Indiana native went to the Cubs' skipper asking for more at-bats.

A big plus side is that Fox's bat has always been there. He entered the year a career .284 hitter and batted precisely that this past season. He also has a fair amount of power.

Fox said he struck up a good relationship with Cubs hitting coach Gerald Perry during his stint in the big leagues and in Big League Spring Training.

"We worked very well together," Fox said. "When I swing, I swing hard, so sometimes my swing is not the same. When he was working with me, he worked hard on shortening up my front stretch so that I take the same swing at everything and find a sweet spot."

Overall, Fox said he feels all the wiser for having spent time in a major league atmosphere this season. He was surrounded by many familiar faces, particularly with so many young prospects being promoted to Chicago this year.

One of those teammates, Cubs pitcher Rich Hill, is one that Fox knew at Michigan.

"It was pretty cool from the standpoint of coming up with this guy and seeing him develop throughout his career," Fox said of Hill. "I think he'd probably feel the same way about me. One of the greatest things about going up there was that a lot of the guys I played with came up through the organization with me. They were really good for me because they were always watching out for me, making sure I didn't do the wrong thing or that I was in the wrong place. It was really special to go up there and actually know somebody, because they can look out for you a lot and make sure you're not doing something stupid.

"Hopefully, I can make it back," he added.

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