Spring Training Battle: Cubs Second Baseman: Will Nico Hoerner Emerge As The Team’s Starter?

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The Chicago Cubs have a decision to make at second base this spring, do they turn the position over to the hot shot rookie on Opening Day or use a veteran as a bridge to give their youngsters more time to develop.  The addition of Jason Kipnis may have settled the issue, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right answer.  Let’s take a look at all of the options:

Jason Kipnis

It wasn’t long ago that Kipnis hit .275 with 23 HR and 15 SB, but that appears to have been his pinnacle.  In the three subsequent seasons he hasn’t hit above .245 or stolen more than 7 bases, leaving us to wonder how much the soon-to-be 33-year old has left in the tank.  That’s not to say that there’s no value, as he’s continued to show some power (35 HR over the past two seasons) and a solid approach (8.6% SwStr% in ’19).  However there’s a few key metrics that do bring his overall upside into question:

  • Exit Velocity – 86.7 mph
  • Hard% – 36.7%
  • Fly Ball Rate – 41.2%

So he doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard, and with this type of percentage of balls in the air (as well as an apparent decline in his speed) he’s not going to be able to maintain an elevated BABIP.  Couple that with the potential to platoon, if he is handed the job, and there isn’t much upside.

David Bote

Prior to the addition of Kipnis it appeared Bote was going to be the man to keep the seat warm until Nico Hoerner was deemed ready.  Over the past two seasons Bote has 566 PA, so the equivalent of an entire season, hitting .251 with 17 HR and 8 SB.  His biggest problem has been far too many swings and misses (13.9% SwStr%), with his worst Whiff% coming against fastballs (15.18%).  He also puts far too many balls on the ground, especially for a player without much speed, with a career 52.8% groundball rate.  Strikeouts, limited speed and limited power upside?  He’s back in a utility role, which is where he should be.

Nico Hoerner

The question may come down to whether or not the Cubs decide to play the service time game with Hoerner or not.  At the same time even his upside may be limited, as we gave him a “B-“ grade and said the following:

Hoerner got his first taste of the Majors in ’19, hitting .282 with 3 HR and 0 SB over 82 PA.  He spent most of the year at Double-A (294 PA), though his approach is in question a little bit after a big regression upon his promotion (SwStr%):

  • Double-A – 6.1%
  • Majors – 10.3%

Obviously we’d expect the MLB number to improve with more experience, though he also had a 48.6% O-Swing% and didn’t draw many walks even at Double-A (7.1% walk rate).  There also are questions about how much power and speed he’ll develop, and without those things the skill set isn’t overly enticing.  His name does draw some love, but he’ll likely be more valuable as a “real” player as opposed to a fantasy one.

Conclusion

There’s a good chance the Cubs open the year with a combination of Kipnis/Bote filling the keystone.  Ultimately it’s going to be Hoerner’s job, unless he completely falls flat, with mid-May ETA a good guess.  How high is his ceiling, though?  His name is going to garner attention, but he also isn’t an option to go crazy to obtain. 

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball

Make sure to check out all of our 2020 preseason rankings:

PositionLast Updated
Catchers02/10/20
First Basemen02/13/20
Second Basemen02/18/20
Third Basemen02/21/20
Shortstops02/24/20
Outfielders03/06/20
Starting Pitchers03/09/20
Relief Pitchers03/03/20

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