MESA, Ariz. -- With a vacancy at second base, Nico Hoerner has come into camp like a man on a mission for the Cubs. During Tuesday's Cactus League game against Kansas City, Hoerner roped a double and single and both were eye-popping liners
"The two hits he had yesterday were two of the hardest he's hit in a year's time," Cubs manager David Ross said on Wednesday morning. "Or, maybe as hard as he hit any ball last year. I know the exit velocity was pretty good."
Given Hoerner's stellar defensive ability at second, a strong showing in the batter's box is what could put him over the top in the competition with David Bote and Ildemaro Vargas. And the Cubs are not done building up their inventory, either. Chicago is on the cusp of adding veteran Eric Sogard to the mix, too.
The Cubs reached an agreement with the 34-year-old Sogard on a Minor League contract (including a non-roster invitation to Spring Training) on Wednesday.
Sogard was targeted by the Cubs at the Trade Deadline in 2019 and was on Chicago's radar again the following offseason. He offers a lefty bat and has a proven career track record of contact, an area Chicago in which needs to improve as a team. In his career, Sogard has posted a 90.2-percent contact rate and a 3.9-percent swinging-strike rate.
Last year, Sogard hit just .209/.281/.278 in 128 plate appearances across 43 games for the Brewers, but some of his peripheral numbers (a 15.6-percent strikeout rate and 8.6-percent walk rate, for example) were in line with his career numbers. Sogard still also made contact (93 percent) at an elite rate.
In Sogard's last full season in 2019, he hit .290/.353/.457 with 13 homers, 23 doubles and 40 RBIs in 110 games between the Rays and Blue Jays. That included a .295 (.795 OPS) average against righties and a .279 (.854 OPS) performance against lefties.
In theory, Sogard's lefty bat could be paired with Hoerner or Bote, both righties. Vargas, a switch-hitter, and Sogard could also be viewed as utility options for the bench. Defense will be a priority no matter how Ross approaches the second-base situation, and that is where Hoerner -- a Gold Glove finalist last year -- may have an edge.
"I've seen nothing but this kid coming in here and trying to win a job," Ross said. "He is a smart baseball player. He is very solid on defense -- one of our better defensive players. When you can bring a skill set every single day that shows up, it gives you comfort to put guys in the lineup."