Most of the Cubs’ positional spots are quite set before Spring Training games even begin. Even the ones that aren’t set are basically understood as far as the time shares go.
Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini will catch. Anthony Rizzo will man first. Javy Báez is the shortstop. Kris Bryant is the third baseman. Kyle Schwarber will play almost every day in left field. Jason Heyward will start against all righties, and might sit for Steven Souza, Jr. against lefties. Ian Happ will try to claim the every day job in center field, maybe ceding some time to Albert Almora, Jr. depending on his revamped progress.
But one spot, like last year, is clearly a total unknown at this point:
Who starts at 2B for the #Cubs on Opening Day?
David Ross says the position battle is 'up for grabs' at this point. pic.twitter.com/9x1oJDkOVj
— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) February 18, 2020
The Cubs have a whopping ten guys in big league camp right now who could theoretically play second base (alphabetical order):
- Carlos Asuaje
- David Bote
- Daniel Descalso
- Robel Garcia
- Trent Giambrone
- Nico Hoerner
- Corban Joseph
- Jason Kipnis
- Hernan Perez
- Zack Short
Realistically, only three of these guys can even make the roster. The Cubs will have a five-man bench, three spots of which are already claimed by the back-up catcher and the two reserve outfielders. So you’ve got the nominal “starter” at second, and two others to make the team, at most.
Bote is almost certain to make the team if he’s healthy. He might also get the first crack at most of the starts, too, given how quietly good he was last year. My gut says that Kipnis will also make the team if he’s healthy, even if he’s on a minor league deal. A veteran leader type with a lefty high-contact bat? Just feels like the Cubs are going to try to hang onto him. (More on him soon.)
I’m not saying you lock those two in, because so much can change in a spot of flux like this, but they’d be the two I’d feel the most confident about right now.
Descalso is on a big league contract, so he probably has a leg up, too, though he might still not make the team if he doesn’t look like he’s set to rebound from last year’s disaster.
Hoerner, of course, could be the long-term everyday starter at second base, but he might not win that job outright in the Spring, given how precious little pro experience he has. My hope is that the decision on what’s next for him will primarily be about maximizing his long-term development, whether that means some time at AAA or claiming the big league starting job.
Asuaje is another lefty high-contact type that the Cubs feel like might be in a good position to bounce back, but he might have to spend some time at AAA Iowa before he’ll get a look.
Garcia, Giambrone, and Short all figure to continue getting time at AAA Iowa to open the season. All have the upside of future big league contributors, but all likely still need time/development.
Joseph has always raked at AAA, and has never really gotten a look in the big leagues. He’d have to really wow in Spring Training to win a bench job. Might also need some injuries.
Perez has been a big-league-caliber 26th man in a utility role, but he was so bad at the plate in 2019 that you’d kinda need to see profound differences in the Spring to want to carry him out of the gate.
I tend to think a lot is going to be decided in the Spring – so much so that I don’t even think it’s worth making projections at this spot. Injuries will happen, throwing things for a loop. Some guys will wind up being let go because of a projected Iowa roster crunch. A guy you didn’t expect might totally surprise with whatever he did in the offseason, and push his way into a bench job or even real playing time.