Injuries forced the Chicago Cubs to promote their top pick from the 2018 draft this year. What will the 2020 season hold for infielder Nico Hoerner?
The Chicago Cubs drafted Nico Hoerner last summer with the 24th overall pick and spent just over a year in the minors, hitting .292/.349/.403 in 72 games between Rookie Level ball and Double-A Tennessee.
After the big league team lost both Javier Baez and Addison Russell to injuries earlier this month, Hoerner received the call – becoming the first player from the 2018 MLB Draft class to make his debut.
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After an insane first week, where he turned heads and very much looked like he belonged, people are now asking whether or not Hoerner should open 2020 with Chicago.
So far, Hoerner is slashing .317/.364/.512 during his short stint with the Cubs while playing a very passable shortstop.
But here’s the thing. Hoerner has fewer than 400 plate appearances in the minor leagues and that’s not enough to be ready for big league pitching. When opponents figure him out (and make no mistake, they will) it may take him longer to adjust than others given his lack of professional experience.
Not to mention, Hoerner was injured for some of the year in Double-A and his power seems zapped for a little bit.
Baez will be full strength in 2020, with David Bote, Ian Happ and (presumably) Tony Kemp able to man second base headed into 2020. The at-bats may not be there to begin the year for Hoerner. There is nothing wrong with sending him down to let him get some more polishing in the system before sending him to the Major Leagues for good.
The Cubs could do with Hoerner what they did with Kris Bryant – send him to Iowa for a few weeks to start the season to get him some at bats and then bring him up. Granted, Bryant’s “demotion” at the time was clearly about service time and not just getting him some more at bats.
Chicago could pull an Anthony Rizzo with Hoerner and keep him in Iowa for half of the season, but that seems unlikely given the success he’s already seen, whereas Rizzo struggled in his first big league stint in San Diego.
The argument can be made to just start Hoerner next year at the big league level. He makes contact and has lots of speed, which is what a Cubs lineup full of sluggers is desperately missing. Not only would he fill the void of a leadoff hitter, but Hoerner reminds you a lot of Whit Merrifield, a player the Cubs reportedly had interest in previously.
There is always a fear of Hoerner being rushed to the bigs, which could hurt him in the long run, and that’s worrisome, to be sure. To this point, though, he has adjusted to every level he has been in. The bigs are a different animal, so the story of Nico Hoerner and the Chicago Cubs in 2020 will be a fun one to follow.