Fitzgerald Adapting to Outfield

PEORIA – Cubs prospect D.J. Fitzgerald has dealt with change quite well. Fitzgerald was drafted as a second baseman from Dyersburg State Community College in Tennessee in 2009, but with a surplus of middle infielders throughout the organization and Fitzgerald's speed and agility, the Cubs chose to move him to the outfield this season at Class-A Peoria.

Fitzgerald started the year in extended spring training, joining the Chiefs about 20 games into the Midwest League season. Playing in extended spring training gave him some time to adjust.

"This is pretty much my first year playing in the outfield," said Fitzgerald. "It (extended spring training) gave me a little more experience, particularly in the outfield and to kind of polish up a few rough spots in my game."

Fitzgerald understands the Cubs' decision to move him to the outfield and says his strengths can make the transition a successful one.

"They like my speed to be able to run down balls," said Fitzgerald, timed as a 6.6 runner in the 60-yard dash by scouts. "My tools might project better in the outfield than they do in the infield."

Fitzgerald has been playing left field primarily in Peoria, but he says he can move around and play all three outfield positions if need be.

One thing is certain: making the switch to the outfield has not affected Fitzgerald's performance at the plate. He currently leads the Chiefs in batting average, hitting .305 with three home runs, seven doubles, two triples and 22 RBI through 39 games.

"I try to use all sides of the field," Fitzgerald said. "I try and hit hard line drives gap to gap and let my speed on the base paths help me pick up extra bases. I try to look for something to drive, usually to the opposite field if I can."

It has been a year since Fitzgerald was selected in the 22nd round of the 2009 draft. He says his game has evolved a lot since then.

"I have polished up a lot more of my game, especially at the plate," Fitzgerald said. "I've grown to be a smarter hitter (and) drive the ball to all sides of the field, unlike before when I was trying to pull everything. And I'm a lot more patient when it comes to pitch selection."

The Cubs saw Fitzgerald at a workout in Atlanta last year before the draft, and Chicago Scouting Director Tim Wilken recalls that the versatile Fitzgerald pulled a hamstring muscle and he wanted to play through it.

Cubs scouts were impressed by Fitzgerald's drive and determination, Wilken said.

"I felt bad enough about the hammy and then he threw from the outfield for us and took BP, and he was grabbing (the hamstring) while he was throwing and hitting," Wilken said. "But he wanted to grind through it just to show us his skills.

"He's got a very live bat and there are some nights you just can't get him out. Other times he scuffles, but I think he's getting a little bit more consistent at the plate, and the ball really gets off his bat," Wilken added.

Fitzgerald is confident in his strengths, using his speed and finding ways to get on base. But he admits he has some things to work on, as all players at this level do.

"Defensively, I need to improve, and I need to be a little smarter on the base paths," Fitzgerald said.

If Fitzgerald continues to adapt well to the outfield and makes those improvements, he is a prospect whose speed and athletic ability could make him hard to ignore.

"His intensity and his want-to is (as good as) anyone in the organization, and if he can keep that going on his grind through the system, I think he's going to surprise some people," said Wilken.

"I'm not quite sure where he's going to end up playing at, but I will say that if it's that same effort we got in the workout and the same effort that he's been giving since he signed, you won't be able to say no to him because he just does not give up."

Northsiders Report Top Stories