Although the regular Minor League seasons are all long over by now, the highly competitive and prospect-laden Arizona Fall League is in full-swing.
And while the Cubs have a solid presence on the Mesa Solar Sox, our attention – when not divided by the big league postseason – has been justifiably directed on their participating pitching prospects. But maybe it shouldn’t have been.
Another Cubs prospect on the Mesa Solar Sox, David Bote, has been making some huge waves out west – and, like I said, this is a highly competitive league – so it’s time we paid attention.
But first, a brief history lesson: Bote was drafted by the Cubs as a 19-year-old back in 2012 – the year Albert Almora was selected in the first round, the first draft of the current front office. So, Bote’s been in the organization for quite a while, but is still just 24 years old. As a utility man (primarily 2B and 3B, but he’s played everywhere else at least a little bit), Bote has taken his time working his way through the Cubs system, never really hitting an offensive stride until 2016 and into this season.
After a great year at High-A Myrtle Beach in 2016 (.337/.410/.518), and then a solid one this year at Double-A Tennessee (.272/.353/.438; 14 HRs), Bote got the call to the AFL and has continued his offensive success against the quality pitching prospects of the league.
In fact, Bote is currently hitting .483/.559/.931 with 4 HRs in Arizona right now, and that 1.490 OPS leads the entire league. To be quite sure, there hasn’t been a ton of games just yet, but it’s good to see that he’s picked up right where he left off – and then some – against possibly the best pitching he’s seen in his career (albeit in a strong offensive environment).
And more importantly, the recent success directly followed some crucial changes to his swing/approach.
At Baseball America, Bill Mitchell writes about the changes Bote made to his swing this summer and how Bote credits his Tennessee hitting coach, Jacob Cruz, and Cubs hitting coordinator, Andy Haines, for the results. “It was a total buy-in sort of thing,” Bote said. “I trusted them and I trusted their research … they are tireless in their work, so I trusted what they were saying. I bought in and I’m starting to see the fruits of it.”
So what did they change? I think you can probably guess.
Despite being a high exit velocity guy for most of his Minor League career, Bote never hit for much power. But once his coaches targeted Bote as someone who could succeed by buying into the fly ball revolution, his offense really took off.
“We wanted to create a little more lift in the swing,” Cruz said via Baseball America. “He’s a guy who has an incredible exit velo. He’s always consistently hitting the ball hard. His launch angle was low, and he was hitting the ball into the ground or low line drives. The focus was to get those balls in the air.”
Well, Bote succeeded at getting the ball in the air more and the stats immediately followed. It’s always nice to see a prospect/player finally break out, but when the success directly follows a tangible/mechanical/mentality change, you’re even more encouraged that it’s sustainable.
Now, as for his Major League future, we should probably pump the brakes just a bit. Bote has a real chance to contribute at the Major League level very soon, but a supporting role is still the most likely outcome. Sure, prospects come out of nowhere well into their Minor League careers and turn into stars from time to time (see Willson Contreras for a recent local example), but your more realistic hope is that Bote becomes a quality guy to have around – capable of playing multiple positions, hit for power, hit for average, get on base, etc., even if not in a starting role.
With that said, Bote is Rule 5 eligible this year, so, if the Cubs (and/or other teams) believe in his improvement, the Cubs will have to make a roster move to get him on the 40-man and protect him from being taken in that draft in December. Given his versatility/utility skills and the upside in his bat, Bote feels like the kind of player who could be taken by another team and successful stashed all season long (which would mean the Cubs lose him forever).
In any case … is he the next big Chicago sports star? No, probably not. But he could play a significant role on a future Cubs team, so you should probably get his name tattooed on your arm as soon as you can. Or just keep his name in mind for next season. Either way.