MESA, Ariz. — Their own manager calls the spot in the lineup a “mystery man.” Nineteen days before the start of the Cubs’ season, Joe Maddon doesn’t know who’s going to hit second.
“Probably the No. 2 hole is the one that provides the most—not concern—interest in learning how to figure it out,” he said Tuesday.
Here are a few guesses:
Traditionally, No. 2 hitters have great bat control and can bunt, move runners over and get on base. Sabermetrics, however, favors putting the best batters there; No. 2 hitters typically get 18 more at-bats per season than the player batting third.
Maddon said the goal is to reach base in front of power hitters.
“The whole point is to feed the guys that drive in points,” Maddon said. “That’s what the whole thing is —who feeds that, and who’s the guy that, if you have a productive bottom part of the batting order, who takes advantage of that?”
Maddon cautioned not to read much into spring training, but still: first baseman Anthony Rizzo has hit second a team-high five times, with outfielder Chris Denorfia (four) and utilityman Arismendy Alcantara (two) the only ones to do it more than once.
Javy Baez led the Cubs last season with 52 starts there, but his free-swinging ways likely profile further down in the order. Alcantra did it 14 times last year.
The calculus changes if Maddon decides to bat the pitcher eighth. He has his front office looking at the validity of the move, though he said hurlers expected to go deeper into games — as in ace Jon Lester — would probably bat ninth.If one hits eighth, the No. 2 hitter becomes, in essence, the third hitter after the first time through the lineup.
Maddon likes to stagger righties and lefties to make it difficult on opposing bullpens but said “if you’re going to pinch-hit, then you’re not necessarily having to do that.”
Who it’s not
Maddon listed Rizzo, right fielder Jorge Soler and, whenever he makes the club, Kris Bryant as players whose will be asked to drive in runs. Dexter Fowler is slotted to hit first. Catcher Miguel Montero won’t hit second.
Which leaves …
Shortstop Starlin Castro hit second only four times last year, but would be a right-handed bat to sandwich between lefties Fowler and Rizzo.The left-handed Coghlan, who was second to only Rizzo in on-base percentage on the team last year, could fit. So could Alcantara on days he starts.
Maddon, though, isn’t ready to make a decision.
“I don’t know anything yet,” he said, “because I’m still watching.”