Cubs: Nico Hoerner is kicking down doors en route to the second base job

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

We’re just one week into Cactus and Grapefruit League games, but Nico Hoerner has made a resounding statement when it comes to the competition for the starting second base job in Chicago.

There are still plenty of questions facing the Chicago Cubs that were there before everyone reported to camp in Mesa, whether it be the bullpen uncertainty or the ongoing Kris Bryant saga. But as soon as it was posed, it looks like we might already have our answer when it comes to who’s going to be manning second base come Opening Day.

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With Jason Kipnis departing for the Braves in the offseason, the Cubs were left with a bit of a question mark at second. On paper, Hoerner seemed like the obvious choice, but his offensive struggles last year led to the potential for David Bote to get a look this spring.

This week, Chicago also added Eric Sogard into the mix, signing the journeyman infielder to a minor league pact to compete for the second base job. The job may have been Hoerner’s to lose, but it was far from a certainty that he’d be given the nod. Now, after a week of action, it may not be much of a competition anymore.

Hoerner has been the undisputed MVP for the Cubs in Cactus League play thus far as the 23-year-old has gone 7-for-8 at the plate heading into Saturday and showed off everything from his athleticism to an impressive power stroke. Hoerner is flashing the potential the Cubs were hoping for when they took him in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft.

It has of course, only been a week. But Hoerner’s fast start, paired with the fact that Bote has reached base just once and Sogard has yet to arrive at camp, bodes well for Hoerner’s chances.

But what’s behind Hoerner’s sudden offensive resurgence? After a season in which he had just a .571 OPS, he seems to have made some major improvements at the plate. Hoerner has always been a good defender and an excellent athlete, but the sudden explosion at the dish has been the most welcome surprise of spring.

A lot of Hoerner’s improvement simply comes from his development. Hoerner never really had as much time in the minor leagues as he probably needed. He spent just a year-and-a-half in the minors before he was suddenly promoted in late 2019 after a litany of injuries on the infield. Hoerner still has yet to even see a pitch in Triple-A.

Hoerner in the majors likely wasn’t the plan for 2020, but after COVID shut down Minor League Baseball in its entirety, the Cubs’ hands were tied. They opted to have him on the big league roster and continue his development in Chicago. With 2021 being his fourth season in the Cubs organization, it’s very likely Hoerner has now developed into a major league-caliber player, leading to the breakout we’ve seen.

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Plenty can change between now and Opening Day on April 1. Sogard still has yet to join camp, Bote likely will overcome his slow start and Hoerner obviously cool off. It may also make sense for the Cubs to have Hoerner spend a little time in Iowa to maybe try and slow down what has to this point, been a very rushed development process. But if he can continue to be a steady bat this spring, the Chicago Cubs likely have their go-to guy at second base.