Obviously it is the smallest of sample sizes, but if Opening Day was any indication, Emilio Bonifacio is going to be a key contributor for the Chicago Cubs this season. On Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bonifacio started in center field and was the leadoff hitter. His Cubs’ debut was a successful one as he had four hits in five at-bats and added a stolen base.
With no other obvious leadoff candidates on the roster, the Cubs must find a way to get Bonifacio in their lineup on most days. Fortunately, his incredible position versatility makes this much easier. Bonifacio is a true utility player, as he has the ability to play anywhere in the outfield and any infield position besides first base. He is a probably best suited as a second baseman, but he plays solid defense across the diamond.
Bonifacio’s best skill as a player is his speed. He has stolen 139 bases and has only been caught 36 times, playing a limited role for most of his eight-year MLB career. His speed simply brings a missing dynamic to the Cubs’ offense. Only five teams in baseball stole less bases than the 63 the Cubs swiped last season. New manager Rick Renteria is known for being aggressive on the base paths, and Bonifacio is his best weapon.
The Cubs signed Bonifacio as a free agent late in the offseason after he was released by the Kansas City Royals. It seemed like a great move because it gave the Cubs a legitimate option to possibly supplant light-hitting second baseman Darwin Barney, and worst case scenario, he gives them some much-needed depth. Now, with his unique skill-set, it seems obvious that Bonifacio must take over a full-time role.
Bonifacio had four of the Cubs’ six hits in their 1-0 loss against the Pirates on Opening Day. With their offensive struggles expected to continue, using Bonifacio’s speed at the top of the order is obvious. He can put pressure on a defense like nobody else on their roster can. His defensive versatility allows Renteria to start him at many different positions and keep everybody involved. It will be very interesting to see how Renteria mixes and matches to make this work out, but one thing is for sure; the Cubs’ best lineup is with Bonifacio at the top.