Mike Tauchman grew up a Cubs fan in Palatine, IL, and was actually at a Cubs game in 2013 when he learned he was being drafted by the Colorado Rockies. He also had an uncredited role — you may recognize him as Talkboy — as a young child in Home Alone 2, the one where Kevin McCallister from nearby Winnetka gets tangled up once again with the bumbling Sticky Bandits. The outfielder was known as Talkboy at the time. And following that deep-cut dad joke, we will now move on to something less dumb.
News that the Cubs had signed Tauchman to a minor league deal was little more than a blip on the transaction radar back in January, and his .225 average with a .754 OPS in spring training didn’t do much to elevate his notoriety. His hitting picked up at Triple-A Iowa, however, and he got the call to join the big club after the Cubs placed Cody Bellinger on the IL with a left knee injury on May 19. What everyone outside of Tauchman and his family believed was just a temporary role has suddenly become much larger.
He has taken over the everyday role in center and has been a revelation at the plate, batting .299 with a .415 OBP buoyed by a 15.7% walk rate that ranks 13th in MLB (min. 80 PAs). His ability to work a plate appearance earned him a chance to hit leadoff, a role he’s embraced by going 7-for-17 with a pair of walks and five runs scored over the last four games. The Cubs have won three of those and have scored in double digits in the last two.
Oh, then there’s the defense.
2nd and 3rd, 1 out, Cubs nursing a 2-run lead…
If this ball gets down, it's a tie game. Instead, Mike Tauchman saved the day. pic.twitter.com/K2Wtzxom2t
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) June 15, 2023
Even if moving Bellinger to first base is largely about protecting his knee — not to mention his trade value — Tauchman has earned himself an everyday spot in the lineup. I’d personally prefer to see Matt Mervis given most of the reps at first base to continue his adjustments with Bellinger’s knee getting even more rest as the DH, but they aren’t letting me make those calls just yet.
We’ll cross that procedural bridge when we come to it, so let’s just focus on Tauchman for now. The 32-year-old had been around for parts of six seasons with the Rockies, Yankees, and Giants prior to joining the Cubs organization, plus he’d racked up nearly 3,000 PAs in the minors. That experience has made him a quiet leader on the team, someone more than capable of taking over the role the Cubs had envisioned for Eric Hosmer.
This is a guy who understands what he needs to do and clearly isn’t concerned about personal glory, he just wants to go out and do what it takes to win.
“I’m trying to get on base any way I can, have a good at-bat and get on base,” Tauchman said after Wednesday’s win when asked about his role as the leadoff hitter. “The guys behind me are swinging it well. Yan (Gomes) and Nick (Madrigal) today had awesome at-bats all game, so the way 1-9 we’re just competing feels awesome.”
There are no doubt a few skeptics out there who will liken Tauchman’s rise to that of Patrick Wisdom two years ago, and there are some parallels in terms of them breaking out as older players. It would actually be more accurate to compare Wisdom’s 2021 season to what Tauchman did in 2019 with the Yankees, when he hit 13 homers and posted 2.8 fWAR in 296 PAs. Wisdom generated 2.3 fWAR with 28 homers in 375 trips to the plate for the Cubs as an aged rookie.
Tauchman’s game is clearly very different because those 13 homers are more than three times as many as he’s hit in the other 454 PAs of his big league career. And while he has put up bigger strikeout numbers in the past, he’s always drawn his walks and his career OBP is 98 points higher than his average. Between that and playing solid outfield defense, he’s got a foundation for much more consistent play than Wisdom.
Pete Crow-Armstrong is going to take over in center by next season at the latest and Bellinger may end up out there later this month, but Tauchman has been a lot of fun to watch and it’s always cool when a guy can show out for his hometown team. Here’s to hoping he can continue to ignite an offense that looked like it was playing with wet powder for far too long.
Ed. note: I know Palatine isn’t Chicago, the “hometown” part is just shorthand.