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Inbox: Can Hoerner make club out of spring?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian fields questions from fans
@MLBastian
February 23, 2020

Years from now, you will be able to wow your friends with this new bit of Cubs trivia. Who managed the first game of the David Ross managerial era? That would be bench coach Andy Green, who has been filling in for Ross as he's battled flu-like symptoms this weekend.

Years from now, you will be able to wow your friends with this new bit of Cubs trivia. Who managed the first game of the David Ross managerial era? That would be bench coach Andy Green, who has been filling in for Ross as he's battled flu-like symptoms this weekend.

Maybe Ross' Cubs managing debut hit a snag, but camp under his leadership has been a well-organized, all-business machine for the past two weeks. With so many workouts in the books and Cactus League games upon us, it's as good a time as any to tackle the first Cubs Inbox of the preseason.

I've got a two-parter: Can Nico Hoerner have a spring that sees him break camp with the Cubs, and what does Jason Kipnis need to do to make the team?
-- @thipsher85, via Twitter

The short answer to your Hoerner question is yes. Perhaps the biggest factor in the Cubs' decision on the 22-year-old prospect, however, is the issue of development. When Opening Day arrives, Hoerner needs to be playing regularly, whether that's with the Cubs or with Triple-A Iowa.

So, the Cubs must weigh how the playing time will be distributed at second base at the outset of the season. If a platoon-type situation is what makes the most sense, well, then maybe it also makes the most sense to have Hoerner head to the Minors to play every day and hone some of the to-do items on his development list.

But, hey, if the Cubs watch Hoerner all spring and determine that he's ready and clearly the best option to be the starting second baseman, then give the kid the job and roll with it. From there, Chicago can then devise matchup plans based on other factors than simply an opposing pitcher's handedness.

For Kipnis, forget about the pure on-field results in the Cactus League box scores. The Cubs will be looking at what he does within at-bats, considering his bat speed and also examining how he moves in the field defensively. Kipnis has a .236/.305/.403 slash line over the past three years and had minus-7 Defensive Runs Saved at second in '19, so he has some things to prove this spring.

What would Kipnis bring in the way of veteran leadership and clubhouse presence to the group?
-- @glasscow79, via Twitter

My beat reporting colleagues like to say, "Ding!" whenever I reference my previous stops (Toronto and Cleveland) with MLB.com. So, obviously, answering this question involved plenty of dings, since I covered Kipnis for eight of his nine seasons with the Tribe.

But, I'm guessing that's why you asked this question, too. During that time, Kipnis grew from a highly touted prospect into a veteran leader within Cleveland's clubhouse. He has always played with an edge and did not hesitate to speak his mind (with the media or teammates) when appropriate. He also knew how to pick his spots in that way when his production slipped.

Like many of the players in the Cubs' locker room, Kipnis comes from a culture of winning in Cleveland, and he played for one of the best managers in the game in Terry Francona. I wouldn't expect Kipnis to overstep the holdover leaders in the Cubs' clubhouse, but if he is on the team, he can definitely help when it comes to policing, accountability and playing hard.

What role do you think Robel Garcia will play this season? Will he primarily play outfield, or does he have the ability to be one of many pieces trying to fit into the second base picture?
-- Matt R., Springfield, Ill.

Garcia was a great story last year and there is no denying that there is power housed in that bat. But given that he struck out at a rate of 43.8 percent in his limited MLB sample last year, Garcia has plenty to prove offensively before landing a big league job again.

If Garcia winds up in the Opening Day mix, it'd probably be as a bench option for second, third and maybe the corner outfield spots. In reality, he will probably open with Triple-A Iowa. Right now, Hoerner, Kipnis, David Bote and Daniel Descalso are the main four options for the second base job (or jobs).

Will Kyle Schwarber get to catch once in a while? Having him ready as a third catcher would free up Victor Caratini to pinch-hit more often.
-- @iaparithd, via Twitter

Ross recently said that Schwarber would still be considered the emergency catcher, but no, don't expect him to get starts behind the plate. Instead, the Cubs will be weighing whether carrying veteran catcher Josh Phegley as a third catcher makes sense.

With the new 26th roster spot, carrying a third catcher is one way MLB teams could go. In the Cubs' case, as you noted, Caratini is actually a nice switch-hitting bat off the bench. He isn't the light-hitting backup catcher that some teams carry. Maybe having a third catcher would eliminate some hesitance to use Caratini, whom Ross has raved about for his "professional" at-bats.

Can Kyle Schwarber hit 40 homers this year?
-- @RustaRow, via Twitter

I mean, Schwarber hit 38 home runs last year. So, sure!

Of the many fringy relievers added over the offseason, who jumps out at you this spring, and why?
-- @tim815, via Twitter

The first thing that jumps out about a lot of these arms that the Cubs acquired is that there are some big dudes on the mound this spring. It's hard to read too much into bullpen sessions and there have only been a few Cactus League innings logged so far, so it's really tricky to single out anyone from what we've seen in Spring Training right now.

I will say that one arm that really intrigued me over the offseason was righty Jason Adam, who was non-tendered by the Blue Jays. In his spring debut on Saturday, he struck out three in one inning, but he also walked a pair. He has a hard fastball with elite spin and a solid swing-and-miss changeup. If the Cubs can get more out of the curveball, they might have something there.

Manuel Rodriguez is the first player from Yucatán, Mexico, to be on a 40-man roster of an MLB team. I wanted to ask you about him and his performance so far in Spring Training. What are they saying about him? Do you know when he is scheduled to pitch in the Cactus League?
-- Antonio B., Yucatán, Mexico

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said that Rodriguez's Cactus League debut is scheduled for Monday against the Mariners. Here's what Hottovy had to say this weekend about the 23-year-old relief pitching prospect:

"Super impressed, not only with his stuff. You can kind of see that right away in live BP. But just the way he carries himself. I think we see a young guy, you look at the age and you look at playing in [Class A Advanced] Myrtle Beach, you know? But this guy's closed out games in Mexico in Winter Leagues.

"He has a little bit more veteran presence. He's been around veteran pitchers. So yeah, I've been extremely impressed with him and how he's handled himself. He's looked great so far."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.