Three, two, one:
Three home runs out of two second base options in one game.
First, Eric Sogard homered to right. Then, David Bote one-upped him with two bombs against the Reds on Sunday.
“Every night when I'm on my drive back to my place,” Cubs manager David Ross said the next day, “I think, ‘Man, we've got a lot of good players fighting for just a few spots.' I think that's all around our team. But, yeah, definitely second base.”
Bote and Sogard’s recent offensive showing highlighted the second base battle, which remains undecided with seven games remaining in spring training. The Cubs have to answer two questions at second base: How many backups will make the team, and will anyone claim the everyday spot?
Nico Hoerner, 23, is the most likely candidate to claim second base for himself. He had the hottest start to camp of any Cub, going 9-for-13 in his first five games. He hasn’t had a hit in 15 at-bats since, for a .321 batting average this spring.
“You judge by your at-bat and hitting the ball hard,” Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said of the best mental approach for a young player in Hoerner’s position. “And you have to take away the hit, even when you're getting hits.”
Hoerner’s poise has stood out since he made his MLB debut in September 2019. Hoerner had never played above Double-A before landing on the big-league team in the midst of a playoff push. He still has never experienced Triple-A, instead platooning at second base with veteran Jason Kipnis last season. Hoerner was a 2020 Gold Glove finalist.
“He really understands how to move on faster,” Iapoce said. “To, the next day, maybe assess at-bats, talk about how he felt, but then not dwell on it. And that's why he's able to play in the big leagues with little experience right now, because he has that. And the players who have that develop faster.”
The other second base candidates haven’t let Hoerner run away from the pack, either. Bote has the best overall offensive numbers this spring (.344/.417/.781). Sogard, a left-handed hitter, signed late but is on a five-game hitting streak. Vargas, a switch hitter, adds versatility in the field and the batter’s box.
Their spring performances are only one factor in the Cubs’ upcoming roster decisions. The size of the Cubs’ pitching staff – they could carry up to 14 pitchers on their 26-man roster – will affect the length of their bench. In theory, a four-man bench could include as few as one backup infielder. A five-man bench could include as many as three.
“Since I've been here, we've had probably some of the toughest decisions,” Ross said, “even when I was in the front office and as a player -- for that secondary group, or (guys) fighting for positions. There's just real competition.”