At least on paper, the Chicago Cubs might have their best depth at second base in recent years, with Nico Hoerner, David Bote and Jason Kipnis in tow.
Call me crazy, but I feel pretty good about the depth enjoyed by the Chicago Cubs heading into this season. Since 2016, I’ve been off the Addison Russell train – for more reasons than one – and I personally am ready to bet on the team’s new trio of infielders to handle those duties admirably.
Of course, the question before COVID-19 derailed the final weeks of Spring Training and the start of the regular season was whether or not the Cubs would have Nico Hoerner on the big league roster on Opening Day. If not, it seemed pretty likely we’d see a platoon of Jason Kipnis and David Bote at second.
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Now, Kipnis isn’t the player he was a few years ago when he played a critical role in the Cleveland Indians’ run to the World Series where they were defeated by the Cubs. That season, the Northbrook, IL native (couldn’t resist) slashed 275/.343/.469, hitting a career-high 23 home runs. In 2019, his OPS came in over 100 points lower than it was that year and his OBP fell to just .304.
Still, he brings a ton of experience and you can’t help but think he might feel rejuvenated playing in front of his hometown fans at Wrigley Field. At least that’s what we’re all hoping for.
But even if that’s not the case, the Bote-Hoerner duo could give the Cubs plenty of pop from the second base position. Bote, who inked a five-year, $15 million extension with a pair of options just about a year ago, is most well-known for his 2018 walk-off grand slam against the Washington Nationals. A memorable moment, to be sure – but he’s done far more than that during his time in Chicago.
To date, Bote carries a career 99 OPS+, meaning he’s been largely a league average offensive presence. He’s valuable, though, because he can play all over the diamond and he’s largely split neutral – so first-year manager David Ross could, at least in theory, use him as needed either at second or to give Kris Bryant a day off at the hot corner.
As versatile as someone like Bote or maybe Ian Happ is, the lack of consistency might be a reason we haven’t seen either reach their full potential yet. I think Happ could have a breakout showing if he gets the majority of time in center field – and what’s not to like about a power-hitting switch-hitter in the lineup on a daily basis? If Bote sees more regular reps, he could become an even more important part of the team’s plans.
As for Hoerner, it remains to be seen if he’s on the team’s 2020 Opening Day roster. Under the new agreement between the league and the MLBPA, a player who remains active on the roster, no matter how long, will receive a full year of service time – thus rendering a decision to hold Hoerner down in Iowa to start the season in hopes of delaying his service time clock is a moot point.
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Still, he’s never even seen a rep above Double-A, besides his cup of tea with Chicago late last season. He performed well, but if there’s anything we’ve learned about this front office, it’s all about the long game when it comes to guys like Hoerner, so it stands to reason he might even spent the entire shortened season in Des Moines as he continues his development.