Just a few short months ago, the majority of Chicago Cubs nation did not know the name David Bote or would not have been able to recognize him if he passed them in the grocery store. Now, after his walk-off grand slam on Sunday night, Bote’s name is quickly ascending into Chicago lore the same way Kyle Schwarber‘s did after his performance in the 2015 postseason.
Unlike Schwarber, Bote does not have the distinction of being a former first round pick. Instead, the 25-year-old was selected in the 18th round of the 2012 draft, coming out of the same draft class as Albert Almora who was the Cubs’ first round pick that year.
Bote is not letting that sigma weigh him down at the major league level. Already, Bote has been optioned back-and-forth between Triple-A and the majors multiple times, but it’s not due to the lack of production at the plate. Over 34 games, spanning 91 plate appearances, Bote is slashing .329/.418/.539 with three home runs and 18 RBI.
While a small sample size, Bote’s peripheral numbers seem to back-up his outstanding play. His 12.1 percent walk rate is solidly average league average while his strikeout rate of 22 percent mirrors league average almost to a tee. In addition, Bote has shown the ability to rocket the ball to all fields in his short major league stint. Currently, the 25-year-old is sporting an opposite field contact percentage of 22.4 percent. While that in itself is nothing special, Bote owns a center field contact percentage of 37.9 percent, rivaling his pull rate of 39.7 percent.
Those above numbers only represent balls in play, meaning Bote’s 400-plus foot blast to center field on Sunday does not count toward his center field contact percentage as home runs are not counted as balls in play.
At this point, it’s pretty clear Bote can handle the bat. Perhaps the bigger question for Bote and any player making the leap from the minors to the majors was how he would play on defense. As outlined by Ken Rosenthal in a wonderful deep dive on Bote for The Athletic, the youngster has a drive and grittiness when it comes to playing defense that comes from an unrivaled work ethic. So far, that work ethic is paying off as Bote has yet to commit an error at the major league while playing three different positions (first base, second base and third base) and logging 65 total chances in 183 innings of work.
Bote is Setting Himself Up for More Playing Time in 2019
Without injuries to key infielders this season, it’s unlikely we would have seen Bote in a big league uniform. Bote’s first call-up was to replace Ben Zobrist who hit the DL in late-April with a back issue. More recently. Bote’s time in the majors has been to fill-in for Kris Bryant who has missed significant time with soreness in his left shoulder.
Still, injuries are a part of the game and have opened doors for many big names to make their mark on the sport. While I am not saying Bote will become an All-Time great player, his performance up until this point could result in more playing time down the road.
This season, it’s a foregone conclusion that Bote will be on the roster when they expand to 40 men on September 1. Whether he will be playing at Triple-A or not when that happens will depend on Bryant’s health moving forward. With just two weeks left until that expansion, it’s looking more and more like Bote will be on the roster for the remainder of the regular season without the Cubs having to waste another option.
Next season, things become a little more complicated. As stated above, we have seen Bote play three different infield positions, but second and third base are the practical positions for Bote in 2019. With that being said, the idea has already been floated of Bote playing an outfield position at some point in the future.
Maddon is already talking about getting Bote some run in the OF in the spring.
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) August 13, 2018
That run would likely come in left field as Schwarber continues to have an up-and-down season at the plate, hitting .249 in the first half and currently backing that up with a lackluster .229 so far in the second half. Schwarber’s underwhelming play this season and last can be traced, at least in part, to his struggles against left-handed pitching. For his career, Schwarber is averaging just .181 against southpaws with five home runs and 85 strikeouts in 233 plate appearances. Bote, on the other hand, has shown the ability to crush left-handed pitching, logging a .323 batting average thus far, meaning a platoon situation could be on the books in 2019.
For more play in the infield, it will take more maneuvering for Bote to see more playing time. Right now, the Cubs have Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Zobrist all in the mix for three positions around the infield. Bryant, who has seen time in the outfield over the course of his career, could become that platoon with Schwarber on days when the Cubs face a tough southpaw.
That move would open up sliding Baez or Bote to third base with the remaining one playing second base. Of course, that would leave the struggling Russell to man shortstop with Zobrist on the bench or in right field, spelling Jason Heyward.
Russell, who will be entering his first arbitration year in 2019, has yet to find much success at the plate. For his career, Russell owns an OPS-plus of 90 while logging an 85 mark and .266/.335/.367 slash line so far this season. That, combined with his 14 errors in 863 innings this season (matching his 14 errors in 1,262.2 innings in 2016), could prompt the Cubs to make a radical move with the former first round pick of the Oakland Athletics.
A move such as a trade, would open the possibility of moving Baez to shortstop, his more natural position, while splitting time between Zobrist and Bote at second base. Zobrist will be entering the final season of the four-year, $56 million contract he signed prior to the 2016 season next year at the age of 38, meaning the Cubs will be looking to pick-and-choose where to use the aging veteran.
A Good Problem to Have
These scenarios do not even include Ian Happ, who just like most of the Cubs’ roster, can play multiple positions. Happ has had a rough go of things this season, slashing .241/.363/.414 with 126 strikeouts in 115 games. Like Russell, Happ’s play and Bote’s emergence could spell the end of his days on the North Side as the Cubs are always on the look-out for more pitching.
If Bote can continue this level of play, or even a slightly diminished version of this production, the Cubs will not have enough positions for all their depth. That is a good problem to have and one the Cubs are experienced in managing over the last three seasons.
It’s important to remember one injury can change everything about the make-up of a team. With that being said, having players like David Bote who can step in and play at a solid level is an invaluable thing to have for a club.
In 2019, the Cubs will have some decisions to make about who will be getting playing time and who will be limited in their contributions. While there will always be critics to criticize every move, I have learned one thing over the last six or so seasons. Theo Epstein and the Cubs’ management know what they are doing and know how to get the most out of their players.
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