The Nico Hoerner hype has been real this spring. But that doesn’t mean the Cubs’ battle for at-bats at second base in 2021 has been uncomplicated.
As David Bote keeps cranking out the hits in Cactus League play -- including a scorched single in Monday’s 15-7 loss to the Angels -- he adds to the difficulty of the decisions that are approaching. Ildemaro Vargas and veteran non-roster invitee Eric Sogard have also had strong camps, just to make things even more interesting.
“I think that every night when I’m on my drive back to my place,” manager David Ross said before Monday’s game. “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.”
Hoerner was smacking the ball all over the field at the start of the exhibition season, benefiting from a slightly more open stance and improved power. He has since cooled off, having gone hitless in his past six games. Hoerner’s excellent glove is already considered a Major League asset, but the Cubs have to determine whether starting him in Chicago will be best for his offensive development.
If the Cubs do give the job to Hoerner, Bote could still have a role on the team as a part-timer and utility type. But Bote keeps putting the pressure on with regards to the starting duties.
“David’s swinging it as good as anybody,” Ross said.
Sogard’s addition to the infield picture at the start of camp further added to the intrigue, and he has demonstrated -- particularly with a nice play in Sunday’s game against the Reds -- that he could serve as a viable backup to Javier Báez at short, if rostered.
“After seeing [Sogard] there a little bit and talking to Andy [Green], who is on top of the infield guys, there’s a lot of confidence in him as well as Vargy as well as Nico at short,” Ross said. “We’ve got some depth there.”
The Cubs can’t keep them all, and the pickings are even slimmer if the club goes with a 14-man pitching staff, as expected. It will ultimately come down to how confident the club is that Hoerner is big league ready with the bat.
“There’s real competition and real tough decisions to make, for sure,” Ross said.
Spring Training doesn’t matter, unless it does
The Cubs got blown out Monday, but they remain in contention for the Cactus League crown with a 12-6 ledger. Alas, no prickly plaque awaits the winner, and Ross would be among the many to reflexively dismiss this exhibition excellence as meaningless minutiae.
Except, well, he likes winning.
“I talk about stats not mattering until you’re 12-5 in the Cactus League,” he said prior to Monday’s game, “and now I’m excited. So I make it up as I go.”
That’s not to say Ross has lost his mind. Were he taking the record seriously, he wouldn’t have had Kyle Hendricks throw on the side Monday so that he could get a look at a bunch of other arms against the Angels (Keegan Thompson, Juan Gámez and Robert Stock all got roughed up early).
“But the fact that the guys have good at-bats or we’re getting outs from a bullpen or pitching perspective is always reassuring,” Ross said. “Scoring runs and winning is the goal in any situation. So yeah, I think there’s a carryover, because it feels good to win.”
Of course, it feels even better when the games actually matter. Just ask Ross’ 2016 Cubs, who went 11-19 in Spring Training.
• Ian Happ drew a full count against Griffin Canning to open Monday’s game, then smacked a leadoff home run to right-center field. It was Happ’s second homer of the spring.
• Ross said the Cubs’ pitching department deserves a lot of credit.
“They’ve done a really good job out of getting the most out of superstars and guys that may not have been on the radar for other teams,” Ross said. “I think we’re really good at identifying strengths and weaknesses and pulling stuff out that haven’t been used in a little bit, or maybe a different way to do some things on the mound and then in our prep and how to match guys up. It’s not just a pitch sequencing context or mechanics or a pitch's actual shape. There’s no stone unturned when it comes to how to actually get the hitter out.”
It will be a matchup of the 2015 Cy Young Award winners Tuesday when the Cubs and White Sox renew the Arizona edition of the Crosstown Series. Jake Arrieta will make the 3:05 p.m. CT start opposite Dallas Keuchel.