Hoerner Being Himself as a Leadoff Man, Smyly's Work, Who Heads to Right, Roster Talk, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Hoerner Being Himself as a Leadoff Man, Smyly’s Work, Who Heads to Right, Roster Talk, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

I’m ready for the temperature to no longer fall below 60 degrees. I’m not being greedy and asking for 75 and sunny every day just yet, but I’m all set on being “cold.” Time to turn that page, Mother Nature.

  • As we’ve discussed, it sure sounds like Nico Hoerner is going to open the season as the Cubs’ leadoff hitter, which is perfectly fine in the absence of the increasingly-mythical prototypical leadoff hitter. Hoerner is perfectly fine with it, too (Cubs.com): “I haven’t done it a lot at the big league level,” Hoerner said. “I’ve done it here and there growing up in college and summer ball and things like that. I’ve probably hit second most in my life, but leadoff feels good. It’s an exciting opportunity.”
  • What I like best reading that piece is the clear sense you get from Hoerner that he’s not looking to change his game just because he’s a “leadoff hitter.” Would you like to see him take more walks and thus have a higher OBP? Of course. But you can’t go up there TRYING to take walks, and TRYING to be something you’re not. It’s a lesson we’ve learned too many times over the past couple decades of Cubs hitters, including a half-dozen failed attempts to have someone leadoff, only to see them not quite be themselves up there. Hoerner, by contrast, talks about just having good at bats, and the numbers will be what they are by the end of the year. Yes. That’s the right attitude for a new leadoff hitter in this particular situation, and it feels more likely to generate positive results.
  • Just to confirm my suspicion on yesterday’s Drew Smyly outing, when he got knocked around a bit (including a lonnnnnnng Kris Bryant homer). Smyly has been working on correcting a minor arm slot issue (Sun-Times), which impacts his fastball and cutter, and his focus yesterday was just in getting the proper carry (and thus some whiffs) on his fastball. That’s just how it is for veterans who aren’t trying to win a spot or a particular job – they have the benefit of using spring training game action to simply work on whatever they want to work on, without regard for the results.
  • With Seiya Suzuki very likely to miss a chunk of the first part of the regular season, the Chicago Cubs will be looking not only for someone(s) to take those starting innings in right field, but also someone to make the 26-man roster out of camp, who wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s possible that’ll end up being the same person, and if so, it seems like outfielder Mike Tauchman is getting heavy looks (and performing well so far in those looks). Turns out, he also has a pre-existing connection with the Cubs organization:
  • Tauchman, 32, who is from Palatine, Illinois (a northwest suburb of Chicago), had a big year as a semi-regular with the Yankees in 2019, saw his power evaporate in the pandemic season of 2020 (though he still got on base at a good clip), and then really fell off in 2021 in the big leagues (though he was about a league-average bat in his time that year at Triple-A. From there, he played in Korea last season, hitting well above league average, and getting a chance to come back to the States on a minor league deal with the Cubs.
  • Something to keep in mind if the decision on a roster spot came down to, for example, Tauchman and someone like Nelson Velazquez: Tauchman does not have options remaining, whereas Velazquez does. So, if the Cubs are on the fence about whether to let Velazquez start regularly at Triple-A or be a bench guy in the bigs, the tiebreaker might be the fact that they could option Velazquez, let Tauchman cover the spot until Suzuki returns, and then Velazquez would still be available to comeback thereafter whenever needed. By contrast, if the Cubs don’t roster Tauchman to open the season, he’s going to have an opt-out available at some point (increasingly they come right at the end of Spring Training or very early in the regular season), and he might move on. To be sure, if Velazquez (or whoever) looks great, then that’s your decision. But if you need a tiebreaker, it might be the ability to keep both for the first couple months of the season.
  • As far as the actual playing time in right field goes, a lot of it might depend on what happens at third base with Nick Madrigal (because that could impact Patrick Wisdom – who might play some right field – and could also impact the DH spot, where Trey Mancini would be spending a lot of time … but might be in right field instead). It’s all interrelated, but if Madrigal winds up grabbing 50+% of the starts at third, there might be even more reason to just let Wisdom and Mancini share most of the time in right field, with maybe Tauchman starting against tough righties? We’re still a ways off, of course.
  • Speaking of roster decisions and third base, David Bote raked again yesterday, and although Spring Training results rarely change a decision, Bote’s doing everything he can. David Ross has been impressed (Tribune): “If there’s an MVP so far in camp, it’s got to be (Bote), right?” manager David Ross said Sunday. “Even his batting practice has been very impressive. It’s still early, but the work he put in and the changes he wanted to make in the offseason seem to be paying off really well.”
  • Bote, by the way, is not on the 40-man roster, so the Cubs would have to open up a spot if he’s to make the team.
  • Although it is an important part of Chicago Cubs lore – Andre Dawson really did want to play for the Cubs, and was willing to take whatever they would give him – it’s always a little bittersweet when this story comes up, because you know it happened because Dawson got screwed by MLB owners who were later held to have been colluding:
  • The Cubs did thereafter wind up signing Dawson to a more appropriately-priced three-year deal, and he went on to continue playing some of the best baseball of his career, even deep into his 30s. Even at 37, after years of having his legs destroyed by the turf in Montreal, he still put up a strong final season in Chicago: .277/.316/.456/113 wRC+, 2.7 WAR. Everybody loves The Hawk.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.