A cursory internet search doesn’t reveal the full form of David C. Bote’s middle initial, but a source with no knowledge of the situation has revealed to this intrepid blogger that it stands for “Can You Believe That?!” He’s come a long way since being an 18th round pick out of Neosho County Community College, even longer than the flight from the Mombasa, Kenya airport in which he learned he’d been picked by the Cubs.
And just like the way his Players’ Weekend nickname (Boat) undoubtedly confused a few fans still struggling with how to say his actual name, Bote is both exemplifying and destroying the notion of a replacement player. On one hand, he’s producing at a rate that amounts to more than 5 fWAR when extrapolated over a 600-plate appearance season. On the other, he’s up because of injuries and his biggest moments have come when he’s literally serving as a late-game replacement.
Bote entered the game against the Reds on July 8 as part of a double switch with the Cubs up 5-4 in the 9th. Brandon Morrow — remember him? — gave up a home run to Adam Duvall, setting up some entry-level heroics. After the Cubs loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th, the rookie turned a 2-2 count into a walk-off…walk.
The bases were loaded for him again a little over a month later when he entered as a pinch-hitter with his team down three in the bottom of the 9th. He again got into a two-strike count. He again walked off, authoring what may have been the most improbable grand slam in baseball history.
Producing anything close to a reasonable facsimile of that moment would be impossible, but Bote did his damndest to crank up the mimeograph machine Friday afternoon. He struck out on three pitches in his first at-bat after entering as a pinch-hitter in the 8th, then got another crack at it two innings later.
Reds closer Raisel Iglesias started Bote with a slider on the inside corner for a called strike, then dropped a sinker at the knees for strike two. You’d think pitchers would know better by now than to throw Bote anything close in these situations. You’d also think a guy who’d never hit more than seven homers in any of his first five professional seasons would be doomed to a quad-A life.
But Bote began hunting pitches to drive in 2017 and he worked on terminating those pitches with extreme prejudice, leading to a career-high 14 longballs at AA Tennessee. And he hit 13 over 263 plate appearances with AAA Iowa this year, a rate almost exactly double that of the previous season.
So when Iglesias went back to the slider, hanging it in nearly the exact location as the first one, Bote jumped on it like The Sugarhill Gang. It was obvious the Cubs had won before ball hand landed an estimated 431 feet later, which is really saying something when it traveled onto Waveland at 108 mph.
That was Bote’s fifth big league homer, all of which have either tied the game or given the Cubs the lead (like Wednesday’s blast in Detroit). Not bad for a guy who’s really only with the Cubs because they initially needed a spot-filler for Kris Bryant. Over a half-dozen call-ups and nearly as many huge hits, Bote has proved that he’s more than worthy of his roster spot.
“A shout-out to [Brandon] Kintzler,” Bote told reporters after the game. “He said, ‘Dude, just be you. You belong here. Just be one of the guys. I can’t imagine how hard it is to come down from what happened against the Nationals, but you belong here and you’re a good player, and just stick to what you do.’
“You know that, and people can say that but for whatever reason, when he said it, it clicked in.”
Yeah, I’ll say it clicked in. Even though Bote had only one hit in his previous seven games and endured a stretch of 20 hitless plate appearances that included two walks and seven strikeouts, he was still second in MLB with an average exit velocity of 95.1 mph. Dude just hits baseballs really hard.
As we’ve seen with guys like Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ in previous seasons, Bote came up for what was supposed to be a part-time gig and he’s forced himself into an everyday role. That figures to change to some extent as Kris Bryant makes his return in September, but Bote can clearly have a serious impact even in very limited action (maybe not quite as limited as Thom Brennaman’s ability to form words in the wake of the homer).
And though the waters have at times been more than a little choppy, Bote’s inexperienced hand on the rudder has made for smoother sailing than anyone could have expected.