There’s a large ques­tion mark on the depth chart at 3rd base for the Cubs

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - WHITE SOX & CUBS - By Mark Gon­za­les

Cubs pitch­ers and catch­ers re­port in 4 days

New man­ager, same third base­man — for now. The Cubs open spring train­ing for pitch­ers and catch­ers Wed­nes­day with David Ross look­ing to place his stamp on the ros­ter. It’s un­clear whether Ross will be able to pen­cil in Kris Bryant as his open­ing-day third base­man or if the Cubs will trade the 2016 Na­tional League MVP.

Here are five spring ques­tions for the Cubs.

1. Can the Cubs fo­cus with Kris Bryant trade ru­mors swirling?

Af­ter miss­ing the play­offs for the first time since 2014, the Cubs made sweep­ing changes on the coach­ing staff and in their hit­ting and pitch­ing de­part­ments.

While the Kris Bryant ques­tions will per­sist, David Ross and Co. must fo­cus on a turn­around as play­ers seek to re­bound from in­con­sis­tent sea­sons and new­com­ers look to make a fa­vor­able im­pres­sion.

If Bryant is dealt, his re­place­ment at third base likely would come from out­side the or­ga­ni­za­tion. David Bote, Ian Happ and Daniel Descalso could work there this spring, but none should be viewed as the long-term solution.

2. How dif­fer­ent will spring train­ing look un­der David Ross?

Bench coach Andy Green, bullpen coach Chris Young, first base/catch­ing coach Craig Driver and qual­ity as­sur­ance coach Mike Napoli are among the coach­ing new­com­ers, and Kyle Evans will be more vis­i­ble as se­nior di­rec­tor of ma­jor-league data and devel­op­ment.

David Ross gave the keys to Green to or­ga­nize spring train­ing, and the struc­ture will be dif­fer­ent af­ter five sea­sons un­der Joe Mad­don.

Pres­i­dent Theo Ep­stein em­pha­sized the need for more teach­ing at the ma­jor-league level in his end-of-the-sea­son news con­fer­ence Sept. 30, and play­ers should ex­pect more face-to-face in­struc­tion than in re­cent years.

This can­not be over­looked, es­pe­cially two years af­ter Cubs play­ers quickly tuned out hit­ting coach Chili Davis. Davis went on to help Peter Alonso and Jeff McNeil pros­per last sea­son with the Mets.

3. Who will play sec­ond base?

Here are a few rea­sons the Cubs have sev­eral can­di­dates to play sec­ond base this spring: Their sec­ond base­men were last in the Na­tional League in 2019 with a .220 bat­ting av­er­age, and they ranked 14th with a .301 on-base per­cent­age.

An ideal sce­nario for the Cubs would fea­ture rookie Nico Ho­erner shar­ing play­ing time with a vet­eran left-handed hit­ter. But Ho­erner, 22, must play at least half the time to con­tinue his devel­op­ment af­ter bat­ting .282 in a 20-game stint with the Cubs de­spite not hav­ing played a game at Triple-A Iowa.

Bote played well at sec­ond and raised his bat­ting av­er­age from 2018 by 19 points to .257 and his on-base per­cent­age by 43 points to .362.

Af­ter an im­pres­sive start, switch hit­ter Ro­bel Gar­cia struck out 43 times in his fi­nal 87 at-bats.

Daniel Descalso had the worst sea­son of his ca­reer — hit­ting .173 in 82 games — but re­fused to blame it on an an­kle in­jury. The Cubs are pur­su­ing other vet­eran left-handed hit­ters, in­clud­ing Scooter Gen­nett and Ja­son Kip­nis, ac­cord­ing to re­ports, and they added Her­nan Perez.

4. What’s the an­swer for the lead­off spot?

Ex­ec­u­tive Matt Dorey drew at­ten­tion at the Cubs Con­ven­tion when he said he can en­vi­sion Nico Ho­erner as a po­ten­tial lead­off hit­ter in the fu­ture.

Try­ing Ho­erner sooner than later doesn’t seem so out­ra­geous con­sid­er­ing Cubs lead­off bat­ters were last in the ma­jors last year with a .294 on-base per­cent­age and .212 bat­ting av­er­age.

The big­gest chal­lenge may be to use mul­ti­ple can­di­dates with­out ex­pos­ing them to fail­ure over an ex­tended pe­riod. Kyle Sch­war­ber posted a .304 on-base per­cent­age in 56 games in the lead­off spot last year, and Ja­son Hey­ward pro­duced a .252 mark in 32 games.

A re­tooled swing could help Al­bert Almora Jr. get more at-bats against left-han­ders. Almora bat­ted .342 against left­ies in 2017 but dipped to .213 last sea­son and started only 22 games in the sec­ond half.

5. How will the bullpen shake out?

Qual­ity bullpen depth is es­sen­tial in 2020 be­cause of a cou­ple of rules changes. The min­i­mum in­jured list stint for pitch­ers is now 15 days. And re­liev­ers must face a min­i­mum of three bat­ters un­less they com­plete an in­ning, so ver­sa­til­ity is key.

The Cubs ex­pect new­comer Jeremy Jef­fress, a 2018 All-Star, to re­bound from his dis­as­trous 2019 sea­son with the Brew­ers and claim the du­ties once held by Pe­dro Strop and Steve Cishek.

Rowan Wick could set­tle into setup duty if he con­tin­ues his im­pres­sive rise. New­com­ers Dan Win­kler, Ryan Tepera and Jharel Cot­ton each has mi­nor-league op­tions and pro­vides flex­i­bil­ity.

The Cubs need a fifth starter; Tyler Chat­wood is the lead­ing can­di­date for now.

The bullpen’s early fail­ures in 2019 put plenty of stress on a team now look­ing to re­tool and win — a great chal­lenge in an in­cred­i­bly com­pet­i­tive NL Cen­tral.


Nico Ho­erner could plug holes at sec­ond base and at lead­off for the Cubs.


There are plenty of ques­tions about Kris Bryant’s fu­ture with the Cubs.

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