Over the next couple of months the Cubs staff at The Dugout will be projecting outcomes for players in 2021. This will include franchise cornerstones, players on the 40-man roster that had a cup of coffee in 2020 or are expected to contribute in ’21, and eventually new additions to the roster as we make our way through the rest of the winter.
You can expect to see a new player featured once or twice a week throughout the offseason from now until spring training, which is tentatively slated to kick off in mid-February when pitchers and catchers report to Arizona.
Each edition of this project will feature a snapshot of the player’s 2020 season, compiled projections from sources such as ZiPS (when they become available for the Cubs) and FanGraphs’ Steamer, and conclude with projections as determined by the article’s author.
Entry two of the Cubs 2021 projections Series: David Bote. Expect to see him in a super utility role, playing multiple positions until further notice. In 45 games in 2020, he played first base, second base, third base, and was also the designated hitter. I foresee Bote mirroring that output again in 2021, unless the Cubs make an offseason move that better defines his role (e.g. a Kris Bryant trade.)
Bote had a down season in 2020, much like almost every other Cub player not named Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Ian Happ, or Jason Heyward. I think the lack of a consistent position and role led to struggles on both offense and defense. His slash line of .200/.303/.408 left much to be desired, and he also had five errors in 41 games when he was not the DH. Most of his position playing time came at third base, when Kris Bryant was injured.
The stat line for 2020 may look ugly, but there is a reason to be optimistic:
According to Baseball Savant, Bote is in the 95th percentile for hard hit percentage and in the 91st percentile in exit velocity. To put it simply, Bote is hitting the ball hard and, unfortunately, often at someone with a glove. He is also in the 70th percentile for barrel percentage, meaning he is also making good contact at a well above-average clip. I think with an everyday role, Bote could be a player to watch in 2021.
He was in the top nine percent in exit velocity (92.4%) in 2020, and his launch angle has been increasing since he debuted for the Cubs in 2018 (3.5 to 7.7 to 9.3). His barrel on ball percentage doubled in 2020 (5.3 to 10.5), and his hard hitting percentage went up 44% (36.3 to 53.3). Bote was also tied for third on the team in 2020 in home runs with seven (shared with Willson Contreras). He has also proven to be a clutch player when it matters most.
August 12, 2018 will forever be the day the “Bote Bomb” was launched into the bleachers — and into our hearts forever. If you watch the video below, you can see how much that moment meant to him even BEFORE he hit the pinch-hit, walk-off grand.
The Cubs need more guys like that on the team.
Compiled 2021 Projections
Fangraphs Steamer has Bote playing around 100 games in 2021, likely as the backup third basemen with a bit of a timeshare at second. Steamer projections aren’t terribly kind overall, and the most alarming number is the 109 strikeouts projected — in just 399 plate appearances. In 2020, Bote struck out 40 times in 145 PA’s, and in 2019, 93 times in 356 PA’s. The projected 27.3 K% from Steamer is in line with his career rate — an unfortunate aspect of Bote’s game that needs to be addressed. Here are his Steamer projections for 2021:
My Thoughts and Projections
I believe Fangraphs was on the right path, but not quite where I think he will be. I think if Bote is indeed going to be in the starting nine almost every game, we can expect him to have his first 100 hit season. He had 78 in 2019, but an extra couple at-bats this season could be the difference maker. Steamer has Bote at 82 hits in 100 games, but I think he can eclipse both of those numbers and have 102 hits in 138 games. If we add in his exit velocity increase and his hard ball contact rate, I think Bote could see more of a 15 home run and 50 RBI campaign in 2021. If Bryant leaves, Bote will have to step up as the every day third baseman, and if the Cubs do not sign another infielder AND keep Bryant, Bote may take over second base — that is, if Nico Hoerner struggles or sees added time in the outfield.
The Cubs signed Bote to a five year, 15 million dollar contract back in April 2019, and I envision him stepping out of Bryant’s shadow and proving his worth this upcoming season.
Bote’s success relies heavily on the role he is given in 2021, but I think he is more than capable of handling an increased work load. He will never be league MVP nor a gold glove winner, but he will grind, take professional at-bats, and come up clutch throughout a full season.
That is all we can really ask of him until the roster in 2021 becomes clearer.
Previous 2021 Projections
Featured Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski, USA TODAY Sports
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