Chicago Cubs lineup depth suddenly a strength for the team

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images /

The Chicago Cubs were exposed for their lack of positional depth toward the tail end of the 2019 season.

Injuries to stars such as Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant rendered the Chicago Cubs’ offense hopeless, as Kyle Schwarber, Nicholas Castellanos, and Ian Happ were about the only hitters producing consistently.

Ben Zobrist’s retirement left a hole at second base, while Castellanos’ move to Cincinnati also changed the complexion of the outfield.

The Cubs added veterans in the offseason, signing Jason Kipnis and Steven Souza Jr. But Kipnis was coming off a year in which he had a .704 OPS, while Souza had not played since 2018 due to injury.

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Thus, it again appeared quality depth would be an issue heading into 2020.

However, through the first five games of the 2020 season, the Cubs are showing they have strength in numbers.

Nico Hoerner seems to have answered the question of who would claim the starting job at second. Hoerner has five hits and three RBI in his first 14 at-bats and can make hard contact to all fields.

That said, Kipnis is providing early production, as well. The Northbrook native had a pair of hits in Tuesday’s win over the Reds, and it is possible he could excel as a platoon option, rather than an everyday player.

Not to mention, David Bote’s hot start might give David Ross more lineup flexibility.

Bote has four hits in his first eight at-bats and showed power to the opposite field with a homer to right-center against the Reds on Tuesday. The strikeouts and whiff rate are still a concern (he has three punch-outs already), but Bote will nonetheless be a boon to the Cubs if he provides quality at-bats.

The 27-year-old started at third in place of a banged-up Bryant yesterday. His presence could allow Ross to move Bryant to the outfield from time to time, which would enable Schwarber to slot into the designated hitter spot. Bote can also play some second base if needed.

Additionally, Victor Caratini has gotten off to a good start. Caratini has four hits in his first 13 at-bats, and the switch-hitting catcher offers yet another quality DH option when he is not behind the dish.

The outfield depth appears somewhat lacking, with Souza still trying to reacclimate after a year off, and Albert Almora is still looking shaky at the dish after a disappointing 2019.

But Kipnis has limited experience in the outfield and could get a spot start now and then. It also helps to have Bryant’s positional versatility, and perhaps Derek Dietrich will provide another option after the Cubs signed him last week.

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Granted, five games does not offer a big enough sample size or proving ground for some of the bench pieces. That said, Ross has done an excellent job getting guys at-bats so far, and early indications suggest the depth pieces might be more of a strength than a detractor this season.