Healthy Coghlan looks to nail down starting spot with Cubs

Once upon a time in the not too distant past, Chris Coghlan was the hot prospect.

He proved himself early, winning the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2009, batting .321 in 128 games and smacking 9 homers.

But in the baseball world, 2009 is ancient history, and that year's Rookie of the Year just as well could be today's journeyman trying to hold on.

Coghlan knows the feeling.

Through determination and with the good fortune to stay healthy last year, he produced enough for the Cubs to become one of those rare birds to find new life in the game after nearly being discarded.

He enters Cactus League play as the Cubs' starting left fielder at age 29, one year after going to spring training as a nonroster invitee and playing the first month of the regular season at Class AAA Iowa.

Coghlan was called up on May 3, and from then on he put up a nice line of .283/.352/.452 with 9 homers, 41 RBI and 109 hits in 125 games.

"I was just grateful for an opportunity," he said at the start of training camp in Mesa, Arizona. "They don't hand out opportunities here, man. You've got to earn them and kick doors down. There are not many second chances in this game. It's a prospect world right now. I was grateful for just an opportunity and that I was able to succeed in that little opportunity I got."

While Rookie of the Year campaign with the Marlins looked like the start of something big for the 36th overall pick in the 2006 draft, injuries hit and kept on hitting.

Knee surgery ended his 2010 season after 91 games. He missed two months of the 2011 season with inflammation in the knee. In 2012, Coghlan was optioned to Class AAA New Orleans in late April after batting just .118. A calf injury put him on the DL in 2013 from June 9-Sept. 1.

The Marlins chose not to tender Coghlan a contract after the 2013 season, and he signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs in January 2014.

Although there were questions about him, Coghlan said he never doubted he could produce if his health held up.

"No, because I had done it," he said, emphatically. "If I had never done it, then I would have that (doubt). But I guess the only doubt I ever had was, 'Will there ever be an other opportunity,' because I knew how hard it was.

"They forget about you real quick. It wasn't necessarily, 'Could I do it' as was, 'Was there going to be an opportunity,' because if you look at my track record whenever I've stayed healthy I've produced."

Still, Coghlan agrees it's amazing how fast a player can fall from grace.

"It's humbling, man," he said. "It's sobering. But that's the world we live in. It doesn't matter what it is. It's always, 'What have you done for me lately?' That's just the reality. So you can bark and complain all you want, but it doesn't do anything.

"Every day, you got to produce. Every day, you got to prove yourself. There's always somebody younger, better, more sexy who's coming up who's supposed to take your job. So you just fight until you can't fight anymore. That's the beauty of this game. It's the competition and competing and fighting every day to prove that you're worth being out there."

Coghlan is a left-handed hitter who batted .294 against right-handed pitching last year, with 7 of his 9 homers, compared to .247 against lefties. He figures to share time with right-handed hitting Chris Denorfia, who spent time with San Diego and Seattle last year, putting up a combined line of .230/.284/.318. For his career, Denorfia has hit .292 against lefties.

Given his history, Coghlan is not taking a spot on the team for granted. He says he wouldn't want it any different.

"It's a blast," he said. "Competing and fighting is what I love to do. That's what gets me going. It's what gives me the adrenaline rush. That's what gives me the excitement and the passion to play this game.

"So I wouldn't want it any other way, because then I would lose my zeal for the game. So I love that you have to prove your worth every day. I love that there's a winner and a loser every day. To fight to be the winner is the goal every day."

• Follow Bruce on Twitter@BruceMiles2112.

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