Chicago Cubs first baseman Jake Fox fields a ball during a spring training baseball game against the Chicago White Sox in Las Vegas.
MESA, Ariz. - Has bat. May have to travel.
That about sums up the situation for Jake Fox, a longtime Cubs farmhand who got the bad news Tuesday that he had been optioned to Class AAA Iowa.
The 26-year-old Fox tore it up this spring, batting .350 with a .633 slugging percentage to go with 4 homers and 16 RBI, which put him second in the Cactus League behind leader and Cubs teammate Micah Hoffpauir.
But alas, Fox is a man without a position, and that has kept him out of the big leagues, save for a cup of coffee in 2007.
"Everybody's been on me about the defense," Fox said before getting sent out. "I've got time to work on that. Here's the way I feel about it: I know I can play at this level. I know I'm a big-league baseball player. At this point, it's about finding a good fit for me - where I can fit in, where I can play.
"If the Cubs don't feel like I fit into their plan, maybe another team down the road I can fit in for them. It's just a matter of finding a place to play. Right now, that's why I've been working so hard trying to learn other positions."
Fox has hit pretty much every year in the minor leagues. After a slow start last year at Class AAA Iowa, he got it together at Class AA Tennessee, batting .307 with 25 homers. During his minor-league career, he has 105 homers.
He began his career as a catcher and since has tried both infield corners and both outfield corners, with mixed results. If he can become proficient at one or two, there may be a future for him in the big leagues.
"That was the message," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella. "He can swing the bat. I told him to keep working at first base, a little left field, maybe even a little bit behind the plate, a third catcher. He's getting to the point where he's getting much closer to the big leagues."
Fox also seems to be an ideal candidate to DH in the American League. Insiders say Cubs general manager Jim Hendry has tried, but for some reason there appears to be few takers for a trade.
"I don't know what's going on because I know there are some teams that have been trying to get me at some point," Fox said. "Maybe they're not making a good enough offer. I can't worry about that. If they (the Cubs) don't feel I can fit for them, hopefully Jim has enough courtesy to move me on to somebody that can use me. I think he would, because I think we have that kind of relationship. At the same time, I would love to play here for Jim and play here for Lou because I love this place. I love Chicago. I love this team."
Fox figures that if he can master one position, then maybe that will be a faster route to the bigs. But his hitting is the meal ticket, and he feels it's ready to be punched.
"At times, it's been frustrating just because you know you can play at this level," he said. "It just feels like you've been biding your time waiting for an opportunity. Unfortunately, this team has a lot of pressure on it to win, and they don't have a lot of room for error.
"That's why they don't take the risk on young guys a lot of time. It's nothing against the young guys. It's not anything against the old guys. It's just the way it is. You've got to understand that and know that it's going to take a little bit longer here to break in than it would in other places. I don't have a problem with that."