The Cubs started seven different players at second base in 2019 with generally uninspiring results. Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist and Tony Kemp are now gone. Let’s take a look at the options who remain to fill that spot on the north side in 2020.
- Jason Kipnis: Chicago signed Kipnis to a minor-league deal after Cleveland cut bait last offseason. The former star has slumped to a .236/.305/.403 (85 wRC+) mark over the past three seasons, especially struggling against left-handed pitching. His defensive metrics are mixed, with UZR more bullish than DRS or Statcast. At 32 (33 in April), the Illinois native probably won’t be returning to his 2015-16 heights, but there’s hope he can offer reasonable production on both sides of the ball. With that in mind, Kipnis looks to be a good bet to make the Opening Day roster, Patrick Mooney of the Athletic reported today.
- David Bote: Bote got the lion’s share of playing time at second last season, although he’s capable of bouncing around the infield. The 26-year-old has put up league average numbers over his first 566 plate appearances (.257/.362/.422). There’s a lot of swing-and-miss to his game, though, and his career 11.1% walk rate seems a bit inflated by some opportunities hitting in front of the pitcher. The organization clearly believes in him, having extended him through 2024 (with a pair of club options) last spring.
- Nico Hoerner: The Cubs’ top prospect, Hoerner made it up for a September cameo. A polished hitter coming out of Stanford, he always profiled as a fast riser, but the club may prefer to slow things down a bit. Mediocre results over his first 82 MLB plate appearances certainly won’t sour the organization on him, but Hoerner only logged 294 plate appearances in the high minors, all in Double-A. There’s a case to be made for giving him some seasoning at Triple-A.
- Daniel Descalso: A late-career swing change seemingly reinvigorated Descalso’s career in Arizona in 2018. The Cubs bought in, signing him to a two-year deal last offseason. Unfortunately, he fell completely flat, hitting just .173/.271/.250 (42 wRC+) in 194 plate appearances. 2018 now looks like an outlier rather than a breakout, as Descalso’s been at least ten percentage points below average at the plate in every other season of his career.
- Robel García: García, 26, is a phenomenal story, having parlayed a stint in Italy to a return to affiliated ball (and eventually his MLB debut) in 2019. He obliterated the minors to the tune of a .284/.369/.586 line in 388 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. That came with a 30.9% strikeout rate, though, and the whiffs became an even bigger issue in his MLB audition. García struck out in 35 of his 80 MLB plate appearances with an unpalatable 20.9% swinging strike rate. That he’s even in consideration for the job is remarkable considering where he was a year ago; he’ll have to alleviate the swing-and-miss to be a viable everyday option, though.
Also in camp as non-roster invitees are Corban Joseph, Carlos Asuaje and Hernán Pérez. Joseph has intrigued teams recently with quality minor-league numbers, but he’s a 31-year-old with 94 MLB plate appearances to his name. Asuaje, meanwhile, is coming off a disappointing tenure in the KBO, while Pérez has hovered around replacement-level over parts of eight seasons as a utility option. Each would seem to need an eye-opening spring to earn the job. Ditto prospect Trent Giambrone, who is also in camp but was left unprotected for (and went undrafted in) the Rule V draft.
Ian Happ could have added another name to the mix. However, the coaching staff considers Happ more of an option in center field, Mooney reports. Thus, it seems likeliest one of the names above picks up the slack at the keystone in 2020.