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Cubs’ Nico Hoerner might not win a starting job, but his strong camp is winning praise

“He does the right things, he says the right things, he asks questions, he works hard,” teammate Jason Kipnis said. “You never have to worry about him.”

Chicago Cubs v San Diego Padres
Nico Hoerner is coming on strong for the Cubs.
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Seven players logged significant time at second base for the Cubs in 2019. Three of them — David Bote, Daniel Descalso and Ian Happ — are in the roster mix this season.

And if things go as new manager David Ross hopes they will, none will have a real impact on how things go at a position that was, offensively speaking, a glaring weak spot last season.

A fourth Cub played exactly one game at second for them last season, but he’s a big part of their current plans. That would be 2018 first-round draft pick Nico Hoerner, who’s competing for the starting job with veteran newcomer Jason Kipnis.

Kipnis has had an outstanding camp at Wrigley Field and clearly has the inside track, but Hoerner has young legs, improving power with the bat and the right kind of attitude. He also happens to be the backup shortstop behind Javy Baez, which is kind of like being Nathan Lane’s understudy: Maybe next time, kid.

‘‘He does the right things, he says the right things, he asks questions, he works hard,’’ Kipnis said. ‘‘You never have to worry about him. . . .

‘‘I’ve told him: ‘Listen, man, if I’m not in the game and you are, then you take this position and you run with it. One of us has to do the job at second base because, right now, people are looking at second base as kind of a weakness on this team, and it doesn’t have to be that way. I know both of us are more than capable of stepping in and making it a strong suit.’’

Expanded rosters to start the pandemic-shortened season are much more about pitching than position players, but finding at-bats for the depth guys — probably Hoerner, certainly Bote and whomever else — is what Ross called the ‘‘toughest part about this job so far.’’

Predecessor Joe Maddon was an avowed tinkerer and was just different enough to enjoy it. He even threw Hoerner in center field for the season finale last season.

‘‘The good thing about this roster is there’s a lot of flexibility,’’ Ross said. ‘‘Guys can play all over. They’re used to doing it from the previous manager that was here.’’

What’s the rush?

So how was your quarantine? Not as good as outfielder Albert Almora Jr.’s, apparently.

‘‘Albert had one of the best quarantines that you could have,’’ Ross said.

Almora stayed sharp in Arizona with Kyle Schwarber and a small group of others. His seeming improvement at the plate has been a nice developing story, given how much of a confidence struggle he went through in 2019.

Hitting coach Anthony Iapoce boils the technical differences down to Almora relaxing between pitches and not being in such a hurry to ‘‘gather and load’’ — in other words, to shift his weight to his back leg before the swing.

‘‘You’re seeing some confidence from him,’’ Iapoce said, ‘‘and we all know Albert rides high on confidence.’’

Just another day-to-day

First baseman Anthony Rizzo took batting practice and some ground balls. With the exception of one day last weekend, it was his most active duty in a couple of weeks.

The day last weekend ended up setting Rizzo back as he contends with the same sort of upper-back stiffness that has shown up several times — though never in very costly fashion — in his career.

‘‘We’ll wait and see how he reacts [Sunday],’’ Ross said.

With the season opener Friday fast approaching, each swing Rizzo can take is precious.