Ross on 2nd base job: 'It really is wait and see'

March 4th, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- Each morning, the large pack of players in camp are divided up into work groups. Whether it is based on the Cactus League lineups or other factors, there is some variation to how the Cubs go about making these daily workout lists.

 has learned to like when ' name is alongside his own.

"I don't know if people get to see the funny side of him. He's hilarious," Bote said. "When I look up, if I'm not in his group, I'm like, 'Man, I want to be in his group,' because it just makes the day that much more enjoyable."

As Spring Training reaches its midpoint, there is still no firm answer as to how the Cubs will go about divvying up the playing time at second base this season. All that remains known for now is that Bote and Kipnis are in the mix, along with rookie  and veteran utility man .

One thing that has also become clear is that there is no bad blood between that quartet of players as Chicago's evaluators monitor this competition. On his first day in camp, Kipnis said he wanted to get to know Hoerner and learn from each other. Bote and Kipnis have been attached at the hip during workouts. Descalso and Hoerner worked out together at Stanford over the offseason.

"It's so much fun. It helps when you have four stand-up dudes," Bote said. "All we want is the opportunity to help this team win. That's what you're going for. It's not a selfish thing. Everybody is like, 'I want to be the guy to help the team win.' That's where the commonality is between us, and that's why you see the joy out there. There's no animosity."

For Tuesday's 11-10 loss to the Rockies, Kipnis was in the lineup at second base and Hoerner got the start at shortstop (his natural position). The veteran in camp on the Minor League contract went 0-for-4, while the rookie went 3-for-4 with a nice opposite-field double. Bote and Descalso will likely play in Wednesday's game against the Reds.

Over the offseason, one of the Cubs' objectives was to add a lefty-swinging option for second to either pair with Bote or Hoerner. Descalso would fit that description, but he is also coming off a rough, injury-marred 2019 (42 wRC+) for the Cubs. With a 26th roster spot now available, the 33-year-old Descalso may fit more as a pinch-hitter and utility man off the bench.

Chicago added Carlos Asuaje as a non-roster invitee this offseason and then did the same with Kipnis, who boasts the better Major League track record. Even as a former All-Star and core player for Cleveland, though, Kipnis knows he has plenty to prove this spring.

"It's a new place where you've got to earn the respect of all the new guys and stay on your toes," Kipnis said. "It's forcing me to maybe practice a little harder, to lock in a little bit more during these days that kind of get monotonous. I think it's going to bring out the best version of me."

With nearly a month of workouts and more than a week's worth of games in the books, Cubs manager David Ross was asked Tuesday if he envisions using a combination of players at second base, no matter which players get the Opening Day nod.

"It really is a wait and see," Ross said. "Kip's having a good spring. David Bote's doing well. Nico's continuing to get his at-bats. ... And we'll continue to work on their defense. I'm a big proponent of defense. I like taking away hits and runs. That's a big one for me. So, we'll just continue to watch that."

Hoerner is still in the process of learning the ins and outs of playing second base, so there is an argument to be made for having him continue that process at Triple-A to start the season. Kipnis posted negative five Defensive Runs Saved with a 3.9 UZR/150 at second in 2019 (1,024 innings), while Bote had two DRS and a 0.4 UZR/150 last season (270 2/3 innings).

The Cubs are also factoring in that Hoerner -- even with the least Major League experience -- is the best player equipped to serve as the backup at shortstop for Javier Báez. Bote served that role last season, but is really only being used at second and third base this spring.

All of that will be baked into the Cubs' decision for second base, which could take the rest of spring to be sorted out. In the meantime, the players involved will keep looking up at the board, finding their assigned group and making the most of the situation at hand.

"We're enjoying being out here every day," Bote said. "You're going for the same thing. And if you are the one that gets the opportunity that day, I'm your biggest supporter and everybody knows that."