The stranger rode into town one morning. Said he was from parts further west — Colorado, I think, but he said he’d spent some time in Des Moines, too. Other places as well. Too many to mention. He wasn’t much to look at. Average height, muscular build and a well-trimmed beard. Didn’t say much, but he sure did have a nice smile. We don’t get that much around these saloons. He said he was here to help. We didn’t know much about him, but he had the blue hat that signaled that he was a friend. Still, we could never be too sure ‘round these parts. But it turned out that he had the fastest bat in the old Northwest. And we knew he was on our side that day he sent nine federales a-running with a blast that they’ll be talking about ‘round here for years.
OK, maybe I’ve been watching too many Westerns this summer. But the Legend of David Bote is something that needs to be repeated around here.
Bote comes from a baseball family from the area just north of Denver. His dad was a high school coach and actually coached Giants pitcher (and former Cubs’ first-round draft pick) Pierce Johnson in American Legion ball. After one year at a junior college in Kansas, the Cubs drafted him in the 18th round of the 2012 draft, the first one under new team president Theo Epstein. He wasn’t on anyone’s list of top draft prospects. By the time the 18th round rolled around, there had already been over 500 players taken. The Cubs must have seen something in him that they liked, because they did give him the full $100,000 bonus. I suspect that Bote was still just 19 and had a three years of college eligibility left played a large role in that bonus.
After playing 38 games in rookie ball in Arizona in 2012 and hitting just .232/.349/.360, Bote got a dubious honor in 2013. Rather than staying behind in the complex in Mesa and waiting for a short-season Boise to start, Bote started the year in High-A Daytona as an injury fill-in. A week later, he was back in Arizona. Then three weeks later, Low-A Kane County needed a player and Bote played a month there before heading down to Boise, which better matched his talent and experience level.
The same thing happened in 2014. Bote started the season in Kane County and struggled. He was then sent down to Boise when their season started in June where he did better, but nothing that said he had a major league future ahead of him. Bote then finished the 2014 season with Triple-A Iowa. Iowa needed a warm body late in the year to fill out the roster and the team just happened to be in Tacoma at the time. Grabbing Bote from Boise made the least amount of disruption of the rest of the system.
When a team does that to a minor leaguer, it’s a compliment with caveats. The Cubs sent Bote to Daytona and Kane County because they believed in his confidence and maturity. They also knew he was a hard worker. The team knew that Bote wouldn’t cause a problem sitting on the bench waiting for his turn. The front office believed his presence would be a positive factor on the other players.
But is also means that they’re not all that worried about Bote possibly getting overlooked by prospects seen as having a better chance at a major-league future. Certainly, they were hoping this wouldn’t hurt Bote’s development as a player. The front office must have believed that he was mature enough to handle it. But if these moves did hinder his development, it probably wouldn’t turn out to be a big deal in the end.
In 2015, the Cubs stopped jerking Bote around and just left him in the Cubs new low-A affiliate in South Bend. He was 22 and hit .253/.329/.388. No one listed him as a major-league prospect. If he was going to have a major-league future at all, it would likely be a short one as a utility infielder bouncing back and forth between the majors and Triple-A.
In 2016 the team started moving Bote around again. He started the year in High-A Myrtle Beach, but got moved to Iowa for two weeks in May when they had a temporary vacancy. Then he returned to Myrtle Beach before Double-A Tennessee needed an extra infielder for two weeks in June. He had become the minor league equivalent of a Kelly temp worker.
According to this article in The Athletic by Sahadev Sharma (subscription req.), Bote starting to think about quitting but was talked out of it by his wife.
After his June stint with Tennessee in 2016, the Cubs let Bote finish the season with Myrtle Beach and he helped lead them to a Carolina League title. He hit an impressive .337/.410/.518 for the year. He was 15 for 26 with five doubles over seven playoff games.
When you do that at any level, you get yourself noticed. For the first time, Baseball America ranked Bote among the top 30 Cubs prospects, albeit at a lowly number 26. In their write-up of Bote, they called him “athletic with an average arm” and “enough bat speed for solid-average power.” They thought he was an average defensive third baseman but would be “fringe-average” at second. His future major league role was said to be as a “super-sub.”
But in that Sharma article also linked to above, the Cubs noticed two things about Bote. One, he hit the ball harder than anyone else in the Cubs system. The only problem was that he hit the ball on the ground, where the ball was going to either fielded by an infielder or would go through for just a single. But if they could get him to elevate the ball just a little, those line drives could go into the gaps for doubles or even over the fence for home runs.
The Cubs didn’t say anything to Bote over the first part of 2017, preferring to let him just adjust to Double-A until the All-Star Break. Then they presented him with the data and Bote told Sharma that the Cubs said to him:
You’re doing well. You’re having success with what you’re doing. But this is what we see, this is what the numbers show and this is what you have in your pocket. If you can make this adjustment, you can elevate your game to a level that you didn’t think could be there. Do you want to be a great Double-A player or a big leaguer?
I don’t have to tell you Bote’s answer. The Cubs didn’t try to make him remake his swing and try to hit everything up. It was just a matter of getting a few more line drives and a few more home runs.
Bote’s second half in Tennessee wasn’t much different than his first half, but he did see some results. His on-base percentage dropped from .369 to .337. His slugging percentage did go up from .417 to .460 in the second half of 2017 though. While both numbers could easily just be the result of random chance, the scouts were seeing a change in Bote at the plate. Baseball America now ranked Bote as the 12th-best Cubs prospect coming into this season. (Admittedly, in a weaker system.) They now claimed he got the most of his “average or fringe-average tools” and “average power that produces plenty of doubles and enough home runs. . .” Even better, just a year after calling him “fringe-average” at second base, Baseball America noted that he had worked hard enough on his defense that he was voted best defensive second baseman in the Southern League by the other managers. Baseball America still didn’t see how he’d crack the Cubs lineup (admittedly, still a problem today) but thought he could serve as regular for a second-division club.
This year, Bote’s power has fully taken hold, as we saw last night. While his power took a step forward in 2017 with 14 home runs in Tennessee, Bote hit 13 home runs in Iowa in exactly half as many at-bats. And that doesn’t even count the three home runs he’s hit in Chicago.
Every once in a while when I’m doing the Minor League Wrap, someone will ask “Why are you bothering with some of these guys? They’re never going to play in the majors.” David Bote is the reason why. He’s a guy that was overlooked for four seasons in the Cubs system. Now he just hit the biggest home run of the season at Wrigley Field.
I can’t predict Bote’s future. Right now, in under 100 plate appearances, Bote is putting up numbers that would make him an MVP candidate were they over the course of an entire season. And further, if we set this data to a minimum of 50 balls in play, Bote leads the majors in exit velocity off the bat. Second is Aaron Judge. Third is Nelson Cruz. Fourth is Giancarlo Stanton. Again, there’s a sample-size issue that I don’t mean to diminish. But as of right now, Bote is hitting the ball harder than Aaron Judge and that’s just unbelievable.
I don’t expect that to hold up. Eventually, the league is going to find out something about his swing and they’re going to try to exploit it. Here’s the thing, though: We already know that Bote can make an adjustment.
I think he’s going to be a good one.
The stranger smiled as the townsfolk moseyed out of Wrigleyville. The town drunk came up to shake his hand and the stranger just said it was all in a day’s work. As the stranger turned to leave, a young boy was heard shouting “Come back, stranger! Come back!” The stranger turned and said “Tomorrow’s an off-day. I reckon I’ll be back on Tuesday when we’ll see if we can do something about that old beer keg.”