Nico Hoerner clearly has zero plans of playing in the Minors this season. Despite having never played a game at the Triple-A level, the young Chicago Cubs infielder is very much in the hunt for the starting second baseman job this spring.
The former Stanford standout boosted his resume on Thursday against the reigning World Series champion Dodgers with a three-hit effort, raising his Cactus League showing to 5-for-6 in the early going.
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After Chicago was forced to promote their highly-touted prospect late in the 2019 season after a bevy of injuries decimated their middle infield depth, Cubs fans got their first taste of Hoerner – and they liked what they saw.
In 82 late-season plate appearances, Hoerner slashed .282/.305/.436, while regularly flashing the leather up the middle. But in a highly abnormal 2020, the former first-rounder really struggled offensively, as his OPS plummeted from .741 to .571. He was a Gold Glove finalist, though, and a lot of folks remain high on what he could offer in 2021.
Cubs: Nico Hoerner put in the work
Hoerner spent the entire offseason training and bulking up, showing up to camp notably more built and facing an array of competition for the starting second base job. That field has since only grown, with Chicago signing veteran Eric Sogard earlier this week – adding his name to the mix that already included David Bote, Ildemaro Vargas and Matt Duffy.
Now, I’ve been of the mindset that Hoerner needed to open the year at Triple-A Iowa. He’s never played there and, for the sake of his continued development, it just makes sense to me that the Cubs give him a little time to sort out his offensive approach.
But with the recent news that the start of the Triple-A season is being pushed back to early May, now I’m not so sure. If Chicago is going to contend in the National League Central, it’ll take all hands on-deck and it’s hard to envisioning an extra month of work at minor league camp in Arizona would do much for Hoerner.
We’re still in the first week of spring training games, so that 5-for-6 doesn’t necessarily mean Hoerner will be on the Opening Day roster. A lot can change between now and early April. But, so far, the 23-year-old infielder has sure looked like the guy the Cubs need at second base in 2021.
Factor in Hoerner’s extremely contact-oriented approach at the plate (he ranked in the 88th percentile in whiff rate last season) and fleet-footed skillset and anyone with eyes knows that he adds a different dimension to this lineup that’s lived and died with the long-ball in recent years.
This is the only real position battle down at camp this spring. But so far, you’ve got to consider Nico Hoerner to be the clear-cut front runner for the second base job.