Sogard puts slick glove, pop on display

Veteran makes push for Opening Day roster spot with homer, DP turned Sunday

March 21st, 2021

In the span of only a few minutes Sunday, Eric Sogard showed the best-case scenario of what he can offer the Cubs this season.

First, Sogard concluded the first inning of the Cubs' 11-6 win vs. the Reds by starting a double play with a slick grab as Chicago's shortstop. The veteran utility man then grabbed a bat and belted a leadoff homer in the home half of the first -- part of back-to-back blasts with Jake Marisnick.

"He's had really great at-bats and has played good defense," Cubs manager David Ross said of Sogard before Sunday's game. "I think the résumé speaks for itself, as far as, when he's right and how he can get on base and affect the club is real."

The 34-year-old Sogard is in camp with the Cubs as a non-roster invitee, but he has a real shot at cracking the Opening Day roster. While Sogard had a down year in the abbreviated 2020 season (.560 OPS in 43 games with the Brewers), he hit .290/.353/.457 in 110 games with the Rays and Blue Jays in '19.

David Bote and Nico Hoerner appear to be the leading candidates for the primary job at second base. Bote homered twice Sunday and has a .400/.444/.960 slash line in his past 10 games. Hoerner got off to a torrid start this spring, but he has since cooled off some at the plate. 

The Cubs could use a lefty complement at second, and are weighing whether to field a four- or five-man bench. That could impact the chances of Sogard or Ildemaro Vargas (no Minor League options). Both offer great contact ability in the batter's box and can play all over the diamond.

"They told me the opportunity was good over here," Sogard said earlier this spring. "They've had a little track record of watching me and have liked the way I've played, and [they] think I'd be a good fit over here. And I completely agree. It's a great group of guys."

On the mound
• Veteran setup man Pedro Strop (non-roster) generated some weak contact and picked up a save in Saturday's game against the Rockies. What opened some eyes, however, was the fact that Strop was hitting 95 mph with his fastball.

"The 95 up there was, 'Wow,' you know?" said Ross, who planned on diving into the pitch data to further analyze Strop's first spring appearance. "I thought it was a good outing for him, and obviously it brings a smile to my face, for sure."

• Closer Craig Kimbrel has pieced together back-to-back strong outings, striking out three with no walks in his last two shutout innings combined. In Saturday's game against Colorado, Kimbrel reached 98 mph with his fastball.

"We talked about that after the outing," Ross said. "I just said, 'Man, it was coming out good.' And he said it felt free and easy. I was like, 'There was a couple 98s up there.' And he said it shocked him. That tells me he's not even letting it go yet."

• Righty Alec Mills started Sunday's game against the Reds and was charged with three runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings. Mills, who is competing for the rotation's fifth spot or a bullpen job, struck out one and walked one.

Worth noting
• Ross liked the progression of Kris Bryant's at-bats in Saturday's game. The third baseman brought a runner home with a groundout, saw a pile of pitches in his second trip to the plate and then ended his afternoon with a towering home run.

"Each at-bat, I thought, got better," Ross said. "Ending a Spring Training day on a positive note, when you've been searching a little bit and trying some things, it can go a long way. So hopefully this gets the ball rolling for him."

• Righty Kyle Hendricks is scheduled to get his work done in a bullpen session Monday, keeping the Cubs' rotation leader on his five-day schedule and potentially in line for the Opening Day start. With roster decisions looming, Ross said that he wanted to prioritize some other arms for Monday's game.

"I know what I'm getting when Kyle Hendricks takes the bump," Ross explained. "There's other guys I want to get my eyes on, to be honest with you. That's important here on the back end."

"When he hits them, man, that ball, it just doesn't come down, right? I thought that thing was going to end up in that upper deck out there. That thing just kept going." -- Ross, on Bryant's home run in Saturday's game

Up next
Righty Keegan Thompson, who is No. 15 on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Cubs prospects list, is scheduled to start Monday in a 3:10 p.m. CT Cactus League game against the Angels in Tempe, Ariz. Regulars like Bryant and Javier Báez could be in the lineup after a day off Sunday. Fans can watch the game live on MLB.TV or listen live.