Second to none: Hoerner stays hot in spring

Kimbrel struggles; Davis gets experience

March 6th, 2021

MESA, Ariz. -- After watching another multi-hit performance from on Friday afternoon, Cubs pitcher Alec Mills let out a laugh when asked what his plan of attack would be against the second baseman at the moment.

"I don't know," Mills said. "Just hope he hits it to somebody. I think that's the best option right now when it comes to somebody hitting like that."

During a 10-4 Cactus League loss to Cleveland, Hoerner launched an impressive home run, Mills logged two shutout innings in his spring debut and Javier Báez exited out of caution after being hit on the right forearm by a pitch.

Here are three key takeaways from Friday's game at Sloan Park:

1. Hoerner's hot start

Over the offseason, Hoerner stayed in Chicago and took advantage of all the resources at his fingertips at Wrigley Field. He worked with the Cubs' high-performance team on getting stronger and leaned on assistant hitting coach Chris Valaika for some offensive adjustments.

"We worked on some things and opened up my stance a little more, creating space," Hoerner said earlier in camp. "I'm not so much changing my swing as much as trying to be in an athletic position as much as I can."

So far, Hoerner's winter work has paid swift dividends.

Hoerner -- competing for the vacancy at second base, along with David Bote, Ildemaro Vargas and the recently-added Eric Sogard -- roped a pair of loud hits on Tuesday against the Royals. He added three more on Thursday against the Dodgers. On Friday, he belted a homer to the left-center berm in the second and added a single to right in the fourth.

Hoerner has sprayed his hits from line to line and with hard contact. His showing against Cleveland made him 7-for-8 with three extra-base hits and a dozen total bases, plus a steal, three runs scored and no strikeouts.

"He's come in with something to prove. You can see it all over his actions," Cubs manager David Ross said. "It's hard not to get excited, but this is baseball. And the season hasn't even started yet, so we've got a long way to go. But, good signs of work paying off. I think that's a reward that he's seeing right now.

"A lot of hard work, identifying problems and working on them. It's pretty evident that he's in a really good place."

2. Kimbrel's tough debut

Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel, even with his long and accomplished track record, has shown a willingness to utilize the technology and data resources at his disposal with the North Siders. Kimbrel even had a setup at home over the offseason to better log his workouts and progress.

"Last year, as crazy as it was," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said, "guys learned a lot about themselves. And when you go through what Craig went through last year, you learn more so than anything, like, 'OK, when I'm right, this is what the Rapsodo data says. This is what the Trackman data says.'

"And when you train with that now and it becomes part of your routine, you're getting instant feedback."

In the coming days, Hottovy and Kimbrel will surely be breaking down the closer's Cactus League debut behind the scenes.

Kimbrel worked the third inning against Cleveland and had the inning halted after he faced seven batters and logged 27 pitches (18 strikes). The righty started off well with a strikeout of Bradley Zimmer, but then allowed four runs on four hits with one hit batsman before being pulled. The stadium radar gun had Kimbrel sitting at 94-95 mph with his fastball (topping out at 96 mph).

3. More experience for Davis

Ross first met outfielder Brennen Davis when the young prospect was at Wrigley Field for a pre-Draft workout with the Cubs three years ago. For Friday's game, the manager was able to write Davis' name into the lineup as Chicago's starting center fielder.

It very well could have been a glimpse into the Cubs' future.

"He's becoming a man right in front of [our eyes]," Ross said. "Every time I see him, it's like, this guy's just one of the best athletes every time he steps out on the field."

The 21-year-old Davis -- a second-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft -- is in camp as a non-roster invitee to soak up the experience of being around the Major League staff and players. The young outfielder (ranked No. 61 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list and No. 2 in the Cubs' Top 30) went 0-for-3 against Cleveland, but the focus for him now is on learning, not on results.

"He's going to be an incredible baseball player," Cubs outfielder Ian Happ said. "I really am impressed by his wanting to be around and ask questions. He's really attentive."

"I remember as a young guy," Happ said, "just being able to be around and ask questions and learn. Having a guy -- I say this over and over -- but having a guy like Jason [Heyward] in the outfield that you can ask and learn from is huge."