Hoffpauir May Finally Get His Chance

Micah Hoffpauir wasn't entirely sure what his future held after last season, or that his surgically repaired left knee would heal in time to open the 2008 season. But things are looking up for Hoffpauir as he gets set to enter big league spring training.

Last summer, the 27-year-old Hoffpauir was enjoying arguably the best season of his pro career with Class AAA Iowa before it all came to an unexpected end.

Playing in a game against the Albuquerque Isotopes on July 2, Hoffpauir rounded third base and headed home on a long single from Geovany Soto.

Hoffpauir scored easily, but during the play he wound end up tearing his articular cartilage and thus required surgery.

A grueling 16-week rehab period, most of which was spent in Mesa, Ariz., at the site of the Cubs' Spring Training headquarters and rehab facilities, ensued.

Now, Hoffpauir is back in Mesa – only this time, he's there not for rehab but to report for the start of Spring Training with the rest of Cubs position players Feb. 18.

"I feel great," boasts Hoffpauir, who played in 82 games for Iowa last season, batting .319 with 73 RBIs and a career-high 16 home runs. "I feel I've gotten myself into pretty good shape to where I'll be ready when the season rolls around.

"As far as I know, it's 100 percent," he said of his knee. "There's some soreness here and there after a three- or four-hour workout, but I can deal with a little soreness. Other than that, everything is hunky dory."

Which is no small blessing for the Fort Worth native as he enters into his seventh season with the Cubs since being drafted in 2002 from Lamar University.

Following his surgery and months-long rehab, Hoffpauir had plenty of time to reflect on himself and his career. The possibility that he might not be ready for the start of the 2008 season seemed a distinct possibility.

"There was no guarantee," admits Hoffpauir. "There was definitely some worry. It really didn't set in until I went and saw Dr. (Stephen) Gryzlo. There really was not a set time frame on it and that was the worst part of the whole deal."

But now that Hoffpauir appears to be out from under the weight of his injury, he is ready to focus on the task at hand: making the Cubs' big league roster.

And at least one member of the club's front office thinks it's only inevitable.

"He will get to the major leagues," Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita predicts. "Trust me: he will find a way."

Never mind that it will be a challenge like no other Hoffpauir has faced.

A first baseman by trade, Hoffpauir has played the position throughout his entire pro career. Yet it's a spot that isn't likely to be up for battle anytime soon.

Hoffpauir has learned that lesson the hard way the past few years.

"Derrek Lee has proven himself and ... he is the starting first baseman," realizes Hoffpauir. "As a player, you have to learn your role on the team. Obviously, my role with the Cubs would be something as a backup first baseman or a fourth or fifth outfielder, or as a left-handed pinch-hitter coming off the bench."

But those are roles that Hoffpauir only embraces.

He points to players such as Cubs second baseman Ryan Theriot, who first came up as a reserve before breaking even at the major league level, as a shining example of how someone in his position can reach "The Show."

"He can play every position on the field if he has to," Hoffpauir said of Theriot. "He's made the jump to the big leagues and he's stuck. I think that's the route people are going."

It's also the route Hoffpauir would like to take – one which, as he noted, requires a certain level of versatility.

Hoffpauir may have a leg up in that category already as he has experience away from first base, most notably the outfield. He played a total of 13 games there last season, and he has nearly 60 games on his resume there throughout his pro career.

Wherever there's an opportunity in camp, Hoffpauir plans to seize it.

"You never want to limit yourself to one thing, especially when you're trying to get to the big leagues," he said. "When you talk about opportunities, you create more of them by making yourself more versatile."

And while this won't be the first time that Hoffpauir will be in big league spring training, it will be the first time he'll have more than a moment's notice to prepare.

Hoffpauir was invited to camp last year, one day before Minor League Spring Training was set to commence at the start of March. The late summons posed no problems, as Hoffpauir batted a respectable .292 in 18 Cactus League games.

"He did well," noted Fleita. "(All-around), he can hit and play good defense at first base, left field, and right field. He's a good guy who shows up to play everyday."

That at least has earned him the chance to compete, and maybe the chance to do a lot more.

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