Emilio Bonifacio: Fool's Gold?

Justin K. Aller

Each week, I'll profile a player who's outperforming his draft stock. The clear-cut choice for Week 1? Cubs second baseman Emilio Bonifacio, who's already setting records this season.

If I told you that Emilio Bonifacio, he of the .243 batting average and .625 OPS last season, would have 11 hits in his first 16 at-bats of the season, to go along with four stolen bases, you’d have told me I was nuts.

Then again, I never would have told you this because there's no way it would happen! Right?

Let’s break it down.

Since that 11-for-16 (.688) start, Bonifacio has slowed down a bit, but he’s still hitting .500 (14-for-28) with a 1.120 OPS.

There’s plenty of fun to be had with Bonifacio’s hot start. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Bonifacio recorded his 11th hit on April 27; as a reminder, he reached that number on April 3 this year. He’s the first player in the last 100 years to start his Cubs career with at least four hits in each of his first two games, per Carrie Muskat. Only two other players have recorded 11 hits in their first three games of the season since 1900.

You probably get the idea: He started off hot. Setting a modern record for hits over the first two games of the season is certainly worth taking notice of, but does that mean Bonifacio will continue his production?

Why He Will Keep it Up

While Bonifacio hasn’t exactly put up numbers akin to what he’s accomplished during his recent hot spell, he’s shown a propensity to handle the stick in the past. Most recently, after batting .218 in 262 at-bats with Toronto to start the 2013 season, Bonifacio moved to Kansas City. The change of scenery did him quite a bit of good—he batted .285 and raised his OBP by 94 points as he closed out the season with the Royals.

A .266 career batter, Bonifacio also batted .296 over 152 games in 2011, posting a solid .360 OBP with 78 runs scored. The rest of his career hasn’t quite measured up to that breakout season, but this is an induction of what he’s capable of, at the very least.

While it’s unusual for players to break out after several years of mediocrity, it’s not unheard of by any means. Luis Gonzalez was essentially a replacement-level player before moving to the Diamondbacks. The same goes for Jose Bautista before he figured out his swing with the Blue Jays.

Bonifacio isn’t blessed with some of the quickest wrists in the majors like Bautista, so he probably won’t hit 54 homers this season (har-de-har), or even eclipse a .300 average. But whoever manages to acquire Bonifacio could be getting a solid .280 hitter who could score some runs.

The Cubs infielder will also give you plenty of speed. He stole 40 bases in 2011, 30 in 2012 and 28 in 2013. Bonifacio’s success rate is also a shade under 80 percent for his career, meaning he’s especially valuable in leagues that measure net steals.

Why He Won’t Keep it Up

This is the easy one.

Apart from his .296 performance in 2011, Bonifacio has never eclipsed a .261 batting average in any other season. His next highest hits total is 116 in 2009, and he’s also hit 10 home runs in his career.

Additionally, if Bonifacio slumps during the season, the Cubs have Darwin Barney and Luis Valbuena ready to snag his spot at the blink of an eye. Bonifacio is far from guaranteed a place in the lineup, with his spot largely contingent upon a continued hot stretch.

Bottom Line

Anyone who plays fantasy baseball knows Bonifacio can’t keep hitting .500, but the million dollar question is where his batting average will fall to.

To be frank, I’m not sold. There’s a whole lot of question marks and not too many answers when it comes to the Cubs second baseman. Will he defy the odds and outperform the numbers he’s posted during the vast majority of his career? Will he even stay in the lineup? Will the Cubs lineup be able to drive him in consistently when he does reach base?

If you’re desperate, go after Bonifacio and hope for the best. Otherwise, stay clear. Early-season hot spells happen every season, and every time, there’s that one hitter who fades back into mediocrity. What’s to say Bonifacio won’t be that guy this season?

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