Thursday, September 06, 2007

Who Is Mark DeRosa, and Why Is He Doing Those Wonderful Things for the Cubs?

As of this writing, the Chicago Cubs hold a shaky one-half game lead in the National League’s Central Division. But even with a mild case of the DTs, it’s remarkable that the Cubs are in the pennant chase at all, given the team’s penchant for ultimate failure. For now, it’s okay to savor the moment.

Most casual fans would look at the Cubs and assume that they are where they are because of players like Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, and the team’s most prominent addition for 2007, Alfonso Soriano. Not to mention the pitchers, like surprise 14-game winner Ted Lilly and flaky 14-game winner Carlos Zambrano (when he’s on his game—which he hasn’t been of late).

Suffice to say it’s been a team effort on Chicago’s North Side. Ramirez or Lee will probably lead the team in batting average. Soriano or Ramirez will probably lead in home runs. Ramirez will probably snag the team RBI crown. Yet for all the good these guys are doing, one wonders where the Cubs would be without Mark DeRosa.

He’s not exactly a household name, but he’s no complete stranger either. The thing about DeRosa is that good fans mostly have known about him in at least a peripheral way, but most of us surely didn’t know how good he was. Or how darn versatile.

DeRosa is currently hitting .289 for the Cubs, with 63 RBIs, good enough for third on the club behind Ramirez and Lee. He has played every infield position this year, plus left and right in the outfield.

At 32, DeRosa (left), a native of Passaic, N.J., is what we call in the trade a journeyman. He’s been in the majors since 1998, when he first came up with the Atlanta Braves, who drafted him in the 7th round of the 1996 amateur draft after he completed his collegiate career at Penn. (Yep, DeRosa is an Ivy Leaguer.).

His first three seasons were only brief stints, in which he appeared in only 34 games and amassed only 24 at-bats. From 2001 to 2004, he was a semi-regular for the Braves, with batting averages that veered from .239 to .297. He moved in free agency to the Texas Rangers in 2005, seeing only limited playing time, then in 2006 had—for him, anyway—a breakout year of sorts, batting .296 with 40 doubles, 13 homers and 74 RBIs.

DeRosa is having similar success in his first year with the Cubs. He’s listed at 6’1,” 205 pounds, but somehow he looks taller on television. He’s got a sweetly measured swing, and with his apparent composure at the plate, and his versatility in the field, he's become an unsung hero for the North Siders. He's also been indispensable to manager Lou Piniella's lineup maneuverings, especially when Soriano was out for several weeks with a severe leg injury. DeRosa's an excellent #2 batter, with his knack for getting the bat on the ball, but he can also produce from the #5-#7 slots with his clutch hitting and occasional power.

DeRosa also has postseason experience, appearing in 13 divisional and championship series games for the Braves, 2001-2003, compiling a batting average of .368. With some luck, he might again be able to revisit the playoffs. If so, he'll be one of the major reasons why the Cubs have gotten there.

No comments: