How will David Bote follow up his breakthrough 2018 campaign?
The 25-year-old isn't just a fan favorite, but became an organizational favorite during his time in the Cubs farm system.
The world got to know Bote when he hit the first ultimate grand slam in baseball history on Aug. 12, slamming a Ryan Madson pitch into the center field bleachers with two strikes and two outs to give the Cubs a win from within the jaws of defeat. He had plenty of other big moments throughout 2018, from a game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth against the Diamondbacks (July 26) to another walk-off against the Reds (Aug. 24) to a complete highlight reel of defensive plays.
But Bote's journey started long before that.
An 18th-round draft pick from Neosho County Community College, Bote was just another guy in the Cubs farm system for the first four years of his pro career. The defense and the work ethic were always there, but the bat wasn't clicking.
In 2016, everything changed.
Bote and Ian Happ were both with the Cubs' Class-A team in Myrtle Beach to start that year.
Happ was the first-round draft pick on the fast track to the big leagues. Bote was a 23-year-old in his fifth year of pro ball and was actually one of the older players in the Carolina League.
Happ mashed from the outset that season, posting an .885 OPS in 69 games for Myrtle Beach and earning a promotion to Double-A Tennessee.
That opened the door for Bote and Cubs senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod admitted Happ's departure was the only reason Bote got a shot at regular playing time.
Bote made the most of his opportunity, slashing .337/.410/.518 (.928 OPS) in 72 games and started tapping into his previously-unlocked power.
"It just clicked and he started hitting," McLeod said over the weekend at Cubs Convention. "Everyone in the organization was so proud, so happy. Then he comes back and does it in Tennessee the next year and it culminates in last year.
"Anyone who knew David Bote in the organization couldn't have been more happy when he made his major-league debut in Denver and then of course, the walk-off grand slam. Couldn't be happier for that type of kid."
Bote was not on Cubs fans' radars a year ago at this time, but wound up being one of their bright spots of the season as a much-needed fill-in while Kris Bryant struggled to get over his left shoulder injury.
Even with an offensive downturn following that ultimate grand slam (.176 average, .559 OPS in 40 games), Bote still finished the year with an overall value approaching Albert Almora Jr. and Happ. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Referenced credited Bote with 1.0 WAR (thanks in large part to his defense), right in the same neighborhood as Happ (1.5 fWAR, 0.6 bWAR) and Almora (1.1 fWAR, 1.7 bWAR) despite less than half the playing time.
Bote still has some work to do — namely adjusting back to the league that appeared to figure him out down the stretch — but this winter has been completely different for the Colorado native, including his first taste of Cubs Convention.
In addition to drawing one of the loudest cheers of Opening Ceremonies at fan fest at Sheraton Grand Chicago last week, Bote is also finding his name in some low-key trade rumors this winter. However, he's probably worth more to the Cubs than any haul they'd get in return. For a team with serious budgetary concerns, Bote's league-minimum salary is extremely valuable — especially when you consider he can play very good defense at any of the infield positions and may be getting more work in the outfield this spring, too.
Bote has played outfield before (50 games in the minors) and he said he's taken fly balls and worked out routes with Almora in Arizona before spring training in years past.
Well before last season ended abruptly for the Cubs, Joe Maddon was already teasing increased versatility for Bote, saying he wanted to see the young utility player get some time in the outfield in spring training.
Bote's all for any way that can get his name in the lineup in Chicago.
"Whatever I can do, whatever glove I can put on to help us win to give a guy a rest or just to be productive at my spot on the field, I take pride in," Bote said. "If that means playing the outfield, I play the outfield."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.