(670 The Score) Barring a late addition by the Cubs in spring training, Nico Hoerner will battle David Bote and Ildemaro Vargas for playing time at second base.
Hoerner’s goal is to win that job on an everyday basis. A first-round pick of the Cubs in 2018, Hoerner debuted near the end of the 2019 season, then showcased his versatility in 2020 by playing second base (37 games), shortstop (10 games), third base (six games) and the outfield (two games). The results were mixed for Hoerner, as he was named a Gold Glove finalist at second base but hit just .222 with a .571 OPS in 48 games.
Hoerner knows he must produce at a higher level offensively, as he did in hitting .282 with a .741 OPS in 20 games in 2019.
“We are working on some things and opening up my stance,” Hoerner said earlier this week. “We are trying to create some space and not changing my swing as much as being in a more athletic position in my approach. I want to be a strong, dynamic athlete in all parts of the game.”
Power and slugging haven’t been part of Hoerner’s hitting profile early in his MLB career, as he has just nine extra-base hits in 186 plate appearances. On that front, the Cubs are preaching patience.
"As a group and personally, we got defensive at the plate,” Hoerner said of the Cubs’ offensive woes in 2020. "That is not who I am and not who we are as a group.”
Hoerner’s path to consistent playing time is by continuing to make consistent contact, using the opposite field, improving his power element and playing strong defense.
"The way he is right now is the ideal player for us in some respects,” manager David Ross said. “It's about his mentality, work ethic and how he sees the game. He has a deep defensive skill set that allows me to move him all around the diamond and have him play different positions.”
Hoerner knows he’ll have his hands full earning playing time over Bote, who has more power.
"When I got called up, (Bote) was the best person to meet for me,” Hoerner said. "He helped make the transition for me to the major leagues as comfortable as possible. So I am lucky to be competing next to a guy that also elevates my game.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.