HomeMLB RumorsThe Journeyman Outfielder Flourishing With The Cubs

The Journeyman Outfielder Flourishing With The Cubs

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When the Cubs signed veteran outfielder Mike Tauchman to a minor league deal back in January of last year, the deal was barely a footnote in an offseason that saw Chicago splurge on stars such as Dansby Swanson and Cody Bellinger as they attempted to work their way back into the playoff conversation. Even the signings of veteran role players such as Trey Mancini and Eric Hosmer appeared to be more relevant to the Cubs’ chances as the season got underway, although injuries eventually forced the club to select Tauchman’s contract on May 19, 2023.

One year to the day later, the 33-year-old journeyman has emerged as one of the most important pieces in Chicago’s lineup as they renew their efforts to return to the postseason for the first time in a full season since 2018.

Tauchman is perhaps best known for his 2019 campaign, when he enjoyed a breakout season with the Yankees. The then-28-year-old had struggled through 69 plate appearances with the Rockies since making his big league debut back in 2017, hitting just .153/.265/.203 during that time, and was flipped to the Yankees in a minor trade during Spring Training 2019. Despite his lack of success at the big league level, Tauchman received an opportunity with the Yankees midseason when injuries to Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton left a hole in the Yankees outfield alongside Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge. He made the most of the opportunity and posted 3.1 fWAR in just 87 games as he slashed a whopping .277/.361/.504 with 13 home runs in just 296 trips to the plate.

While his incredible performance in 2019 offered some hope that he was emerging as a big league regular, Tauchman would fall back to Earth over the next two seasons. In 118 games with the Yankees and Giants across the 2020-21 seasons, his power production completely evaporated, leaving him with a paltry .203/.306/.291 slash line despite a still-strong 12.3% walk rate. Tauchman’s struggles ultimately led him to head overseas to play out the 2022 season with the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization.

His 144-game stint in Korea went quite well, as he slashed a strong .289/.366/.430 in 648 trips to the plate as the club’s starting center fielder. On the heels of his strong performance, Tauchman tried his luck at returning to stateside ball in free agency during the 2022-23 offseason, although he ultimately was unable to find anything more than a minor league pact with Chicago. He held his own in 21 games with the Cubs during Spring Training, hitting a respectable .225/.354/.400 in 48 trips to the plate, but was ultimately unable to crack the club’s Opening Day roster even amid an injury to outfielder Seiya Suzuki as the Cubs instead opted to utilize Mancini and Miles Mastrobuoni in right field to open the season.

Tauchman’s chance would come later in the season, when an injury to Bellinger and the deep struggles of Hosmer led the club to place the former on the injured list and designate the latter for assignment. With a gaping hole in center field and only Ian Happ batting from the left side in the starting lineup, the Cubs selected Tauchman to the roster and installed him as a stopgap option in center field while Bellinger was on the shelf. Tauchman made the most of the opportunity, however, and by the time Bellinger was ready to return to the lineup in June, Tauchman was reaching base at a .415 clip and playing strong enough defense in center that the Cubs opted to temporarily move Bellinger to first base in order to keep Tauchman’s bat in the lineup.

Tauchman remained one of the club’s top on-base threats throughout the remainder of the season, and ended the 2023 campaign having eclipsed 100 games played and 400 trips to the plate in the majors for the first time in his career. His final slash line of .252/.363/.377 showed little power compared to his .227 ISO during his 2019 campaign with the Yankees, but his excellent 14% walk rate was second only to Ian Happ among Cubs hitters and he managed to reduce his strikeout rate to just 21.4%, a far cry from the 27% clip he had punched out at in the majors to that point in his career.

The showing was enough for Tauchman to not only be tendered an arbitration-level contract for the first time in his career but also enter Spring Training assured of a spot on the Opening Day roster. While the returning outfield trio of Happ, Bellinger, and Suzuki combined with the addition of Michael Busch at first base appeared likely to push Tauchman out of the Cubs’s starting lineup as the 2023 season began, a combination of early-season injuries to Suzuki and Bellinger and manager Craig Counsell’s willingness to play Christopher Morel at third base on a regular basis has opened up plenty of opportunities for Tauchman to continue to act as a regular in the club’s lineup this season.

Once again, Tauchman has made the most of his opportunities by delivering an even stronger start than he did in 2023. In 43 games with the Cubs this season, the 33-year-old is slashing an excellent .257/.375/.407 in 168 trips to the plate. He’s seen his walk rate tick up to a whopping 14.9% that’s good for seventh among all qualified regulars in MLB this year, while his strikeout rate has held steady at 21.4%. Most excitingly, Tauchman has even managed to show a bit more power than he did in his first season with Chicago; he’s already clubbed four homers and nine doubles after managing just eight homers and 18 doubles throughout the entire 2023 campaign.

All that adds up to an excellent 130 wRC+ that leaves Tauchman tied with Bellinger for 40th place among all MLB regulars and first among all Cubs hitters this season. It’s been a truly remarkable pair of seasons for Tauchman in Chicago, and if he can continue to produce at this sort of level the Cubs will have plenty of tough decisions on their hands with top outfield prospects such as Pete Crow-Armstrong and Owen Caissie knocking on the door of the majors. Regardless of the outcome of those decisions, Tauchman has done enough over the past calendar year to assure himself continued opportunities at the big league level even as he enters his mid-thirties in a remarkable turnaround for a player many had written off as a one-season wonder half a decade ago.

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