(670 The Score) In recent seasons, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant have been two of the Cubs’ primary hitters out of the second spot in the order.
Rizzo hit second on 38 occasions in the shortened 2020 season, with Bryant filling that role the second-most at 14 times. In 2019, Bryant hit second 82 times.
Of course, the Cubs’ offensive struggles have been part of their downfall in failing to meet expectations in 2019 and then quietly bowing out to the Marlins in the wild-card round in 2020. That means that as manager David Ross assesses what’s best for the offense, he’s open to a lot of ideas.
Early on in Cactus League play, Ross has used infielder Nico Hoerner and catcher Willson Contreras out of the second spot in the order. Hoerner got off to a hot start, as he was 5-of-6 entering action Friday. That surge has come after he put on 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason.
“Nico will be freer and more athletic with his swing,” Ross said. “His lower half and hands are working together, it appears right now. You have seen a lot of two-strike hits from him. The bat remains in the zone longer even if he is a little in front of the pitch.”
The second spot in the order is a bit unusual for Contreras, who hit there four times in 2020 and only three times in 162 games in 2019. Still, could Ross use him there during the regular season?
"I am certainly open to any one of our guys hitting anywhere,” Ross said. “That is my job to make out the lineup. I am open to a lot of different scenarios depending on whom we are facing and how guys are swinging the bat. We have had some conversations for sure. We have had a lot of conversations with a lot of different people about lineup construction.”
Contreras does have the ability to hit the ball to the opposite field and also slug it hard enough to keep defenses honest.
“My confidence is very high right now,” Contreras said. “I have put my work in on offense and defense to be one of the leaders on this team. That is something I will do by playing games and not by saying it. I am ready for anything they want me to do.”
Ross will keep his options open, though he noted Hoerner is a different type of hitter than Rizzo, Bryant or Contreras would be in the second slot. Hoerner doesn’t have their slugging ability but does a good job of getting the bat on the ball.
"Nico could (hit) anywhere," Ross said. "He certainly has the skill set to move the ball to the opposite field. He is probably not the guy you are looking to slug a lot. He could be your typical hit-and-run guy. However, I don't know if the game is at that place right now, at least not in my mind. But anything is possible, and I wouldn’t have any objection to putting him in the two-hole if that helped us succeed.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.