Nico Hoerner, Jason Kipnis and the Cubs second base battle
Opening Day is only a week-and-a-half away, but the second base position is still a fluid situation for the Cubs.
Jason Kipnis signed a minor-league deal over the winter and lends veteran experience, a high-contact bat and a left-handed option at the position. The Cubs believe Nico Hoerner has a bright future and he gave the team a jolt of energy last September when he was pressed into big-league action.
In Sunday’s scrimmage, both Hoerner and Kipnis were slotted in at second base on opposing teams. Hoerner notched an infield hit off Jon Lester while Kipnis drew a bases loaded walk to knock in the only run of the scrimmage.
Then there’s David Bote (who has been a valuable role player the last couple years), veteran Daniel Descalso and super utility guy Hernán Pérez as other options.
In a shortened season, the Cubs know every game takes on added importance and this is not the year to prioritize development over production.
“We’re always going to try to win,” David Ross said. “We’re here to try to win. We’re gonna just evaluate as things go on, continue to take this time to watch how players play out, what they look like and who gives us the best chance to win. That’s no different than it was in Arizona.”
Hoerner was forced into duty last September when Javy Báez injured his thumb on a slide and Addison Russell was hit in the face with a pitch. The 2018 1st-round pick impressed in 20 games, playing solid defense and hitting .282 with a .741 OPS and 17 RBI. He profiles as a high-contact bat who can use the whole field and help the team win in a lot of different ways.
Hoerner also saw some time in center field last season and serves as valuable depth behind Báez at shortstop if the Cubs opt to give their star infielder a day off or slide him into the DH spot for a game here or there.
“The experience [Hoerner] got last year in the middle of a pennant race coming off the couch when Javy went down, you got a lot of feedback from that in that environment,” Ross said. “The way he asks questions, his knowledge, he speaks up when he has something to say. He’s a very mature young man. I think he embracd the environment last year in a great way and so we just continue to try to teach and learn. I think [Anthony Rizzo] is still learning, [Kris Bryant], Jon Lester — I’m still learning and the coaching staff.
“The idea for us is to create a good work environment for him, continue to communicate, get feedback of what we expect, what we see in him that may need work. And him continuing to ask questions as he has about what’s expected of him and do that throughout the year in every scenario that we run through that we can continue to grow.”
Over a 162-game season, Kipnis’ experience was a welcome addition to the clubhouse in the first training camp in Arizona. In a 60-game campaign, that veteran perspective might be even more valuable to this Cubs team.
Kipnis has more than 1,100 big-league games under his belt, is a two-time All-Star and has played in six different postseason series.
He’s battled some injuries the last few seasons, but he hit 17 homers and drove in 65 runs last year in 458 at-bats.
Ross has liked what he’s seen from Kipnis thus far in summer camp and believes the veteran is moving better in the field than he was in Arizona.
“Kip’s looked really good,” Ross said. “Been really pleased with his at-bats; he’s swung the bat really well. Super excited about some of his baserunning moments already in some games – 1st and 3rd, really pushing the envelope. He looks in midseason form. Couldn’t be happier.”