After today’s Spring Training matchup against the Chicago White Sox (3:05 start time), the Cubs will have completed three full weeks of Cactus League play.
Noticing that, I dropped into the Spring Training stat section of the Cubs website, and was pleasantly surprised to see that among the guys likely to break camp with the big league team, David Bote has performed better than the rest:
Spring Training stats are meaningless, but that doesn't mean I'm not stoked on David Bote who's got 8 hits (two 2Bs, HR) and 8 walks already. He's "slashing" .421/.586/.684.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) March 15, 2019
While I still believe spring stats don’t really matter – most guys are just warming up, trying to stay healthy, and/or working on very specific things – that doesn’t mean it’s not still good to see, especially from a younger guy, like Bote, who’s not entirely proven against big league competition just yet.
And then today’s lineup came out, with David Bote at shortstop, and it got me thinking:
- Albert Almora Jr., CF
- David Bote, SS
- Kyle Schwarber, LF
- Ian Happ, 2B
- Victor Caratini, C
- Mark Zagunis, RF
- Jim Adduci, 1B
- Cristhian Adames, 3B
- Cole Hamels, P
It occurs to me that, with Addison Russell suspended for the first 29 games of the season for domestic violence, Bote is going to be the Cubs’ primary backup at shortstop. Technically, there’s a chance that Cristhian Adames could be that guy, though he’s far from a lock to make the team out of Spring Training – indeed, his only real shot is if Daniel Descalso starts the season on the IL, but even then that’s not a guarantee (for what it’s worth, Adames is having a monster Spring, too).
So basically, yeah, it’s going to be Bote. And that’s a big job for a guy with fewer than 75 big league games under his belt.
Ideally, Javy Baez will be healthy enough to play shortstop almost every single game until Russell returns and is available to replace Baez on days he doesn’t start. Of course, even if Baez is healthy, you’ll want to give him some days off from such a grueling position.
The problem, of course, is that Bote is not exactly a shortstop by trade, even as he’s played there a little bit at AAA. He’s a really great defender at third base and a really good one at second, so he’s not completely out of sorts playing tough infield defense, but I suspect the Cubs will and should use the remaining time left in Spring Training to be very certain he’s a capable backup everywhere he can be.
In fact, I think this could be a really great opportunity for him. With Kris Bryant expected to lock down third base 90%+ of the time and second base already crowded by Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ, and Daniel Descalso (when healthy), Bote’s opportunities could be few and far between this season if he’s not able to backfill Baez at short. And, sure, on a normal team, you probably don’t care too much about the last guy on the bench’s ability to get into a lot of games, but everybody knows the Cubs are loaded with talented position players at the big league level, meaning their “last guy on the bench” is probably better than most.
In other words, Bote does stand a chance to be more than what he was last year, and finding a way to play anywhere isn’t just crucial to the Cubs roster makeup, it could reveal another hidden gem.
In Bote’s cup of coffee with the big league team last season, he slashed .239/.319/.408 (95 wRC+) and that’s about where most of the projections have him heading into 2019, too. He’s certainly got his fair share of flaws, including a high ground ball rate and elevated strikeout rate, but he crushed the ball when he connected (38.6% hard-hit rate) and actually ranked just outside the top-50 in barrels/batted ball event last season (out of 390 hitters).
Bonus: His 9.0% walk rate (as a rookie, no less) proves he’s a threat to add plate discipline to his power profile, as well.
I don’t expect to be voting for David Bote on All-Star election day this summer, but he does have a chance to become something more than a utility player and getting in at-bats anywhere he can – like shortstop – is going to be necessary.
So let’s hope he goes out there and shows total competence today, gets a couple more starts there this Spring, and heads into the regular season as a backup at every spot around the infield. If he can do only that, the Cubs will have a quality big league piece on their hands.