Nico Hoerner got off to a white-hot start this spring, giving himself frontrunner status in the battle for the second base job early on. But David Bote has quietly done everything in his power to make the Chicago Cubs brass think long and hard about who gets the nod next week on Opening Day.
Bote, best known for his array of clutch performances, especially off the bench, has been one of Chicago’s best offensive players this spring, batting .344/.417/.781 in 14 Cactus League games.
"“I think that every night when I’m on my drive back to my place,” manager David Ross told MLB.com. “I think, ‘Man, we’ve got a lot of good players fighting for just a few spots.’ I think that’s [the case] all around our team, but definitely second base.”"
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I’ve long been a proponent of going with Bote over Hoerner at second base – strictly in the interest of the latter’s continued offensive development. The conditions surrounding Hoerner’s initial promotion to the big leagues were certainly less than ideal. An array of injuries late in the 2019 season forced the team’s hand – and while he initially looked up to the task, last season was a different story.
Hoerner struggled at the dish in 2020, posting a 1.2 percent barrel rate and .265 WOBA. He checked in as a well below-average presence with a bat in his hands and his struggles saw all the questions regarding his lack of development in the Minors resurface.
Like I said, though, he got off to a hot start this spring – and even after a half-dozen hitless contests, is still batting .321/.387/.536. But with Bote surging and veteran Eric Sogard now in the mix, will Chicago wind up pushing off handing the baton to Hoerner at second base?
It’s certainly possible.
Cubs have an array of legitimate options at second base
A tandem of Bote and Sogard is certainly more than serviceable. I think giving Bote an everyday role could end up being the key to his taking the next step in his career. We’ve seen him all over the diamond during his career – last year, spelling an injured Kris Bryant throughout the year.
In 2020, Bote was awful, batting .200/.303/.408. That won’t get the job done if he wants to not only win the second base job, but hold onto it over the course of the season. But with the backup options – not just Sogard, but Idelmaro Vargas, who has been a pleasant surprise this year, the simple truth is the Cubs have enough to handle second base without Hoerner.
Letting Hoerner open the year at Triple-A Iowa and continue fine-tuning his offensive approach could help him become a more consistent long-term presence in the lineup. This team will be more than fine with Bote and Sogard handling things at second base to open the year – buying Hoerner some time to put the finishing touches on his development and then rejoin the team for good.