Fox Proving His Bat Deserves a Shot

What the Chicago Cubs need now is hitting. Without having to look too far, there is a player in the minor leagues at Class AAA Iowa that is doing just that and more.

Jake Fox has been the most consistent hitter in the entire Cubs organization and minor league baseball since the start of the season. He currently leads all of minor league baseball in batting average (.423), home runs (17), extra-base hits (32), runs (39) and RBI (50) – all of these numbers through just 37 games.

Moreover, Fox has batted .446 against right-handed pitching, which has served up all but three of his home runs. He has also drawn 17 walks and entered play Saturday with a 13-game hit streak.

Fox's Ruthian start has not gone unnoticed by the Cubs' player development office.

"I have never seen a hitter as hot as Jake has been all season," said Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita. "He is hitting every type of pitch to all parts of the field.

"(Again), I have never seen a hitter as hot as Jake."

Chicago manager Lou Piniella has said that he is intrigued by Fox, who has been a fixture at big league spring training the last three years and this spring batted .350 in 22 games after slugging 31 home runs and driving in over 100 runs a season ago, primarily at Class AA Tennessee.

It isn't that Fox can't hit. He has carried his weight with the bat in each season to date in the minor leagues, compiling a career .285 average, 105 home runs, and 383 RBI over his first six seasons alone. Since the start of last season, he has 48 home runs and 155 RBI.

The only rub with Fox is that he lacks a true position. Drafted out of Michigan in the third-round in 2003 as a catcher, Fox stayed behind the plate until 2007 when he began to explore the outfield and first base. This season at Iowa, he has been used mainly at first base, but has reps in the outfield and most recently back at catcher and in one start at third base.

"As good as he's hitting, we're just trying to create all the opportunities we can for him," Iowa manager Bobby Dickerson said of Fox. "He can play third, catch, play first, play right. If he can do that and give a major league manager some options, then there is obviously more value for him on a team."

Fox has played several different positions over the years – not because he is overly versatile, but because the Cubs have tried to find the position at which he could do the least damage.

"He's definitely a hitter," said Dickerson. "And especially with the Chicago lineup, we have stars in a lot of positions and we're just trying to give Jake the best chance to be a big leaguer and to give us our most value out of him."

And with interleague play on the Cubs' horizon, Dickerson said bringing Fox up to DH in games at American League parks is another option.

"There is a possibility, you never know," he said. "He's definitely a bat that is on fire right now. He's seeing the ball well and really hitting well. That's up to (Cubs General Manager) Jim Hendry and the front office people. Our job here is to make sure he gets his at-bats and give him work and make him as ready as we can."

Hendry, undoubtedly in one of his finer Bill Clinton-like ‘I feel your pain' moments, said this week that Fox is in a kind of tough spot.

"He's swinging the bat as well as anybody in professional baseball," Mr. Hendry told the Chicago Tribune. "But if there's not a place for him, you can't do much about it."

Which begs the question: can the Cubs find a spot for Fox in Chicago and if not, can they afford not to take the chance on his bat at a stage in his career when he is performing better than ever, better than everyone, and at a point in the season when the Cubs' offense has been at a very low point?

"It's opportunity a lot of time," Dickerson said. "Historically in this business, there have been tons of guys that have had nice years and have had to go back and repeat a certain league."

Fox said recently that he's no longer playing just for the Cubs, but for 29 other teams in baseball.

"I want to play for the Cubs and I always have," said Fox. "I love the Cubs and that would be a dream come true. But at the same time, if I'm not in their plans for the future, then maybe another team will give me a chance. I know I have something to offer for a team. I know I can fit in somewhere and play at that level."

Following Chicago's 4-0 loss to San Diego Friday -- their fifth straight defeat -- the Cubs offense had combined for two runs over their last four games. The Cubs have combined for a .246 team average through their first 40 games, roughly one-fourth of the way into the season. That places 13th out of the 16 National League clubs.

It's not that Fox can solve all of the Cubs' hitting woes. But giving him a chance and finding a place for him in the lineup might be a start.

InsideTheIvy.com correspondent Kelsey Knutson in Des Moines contributed reporting.

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