Cubs News: Nico Hoerner will get a long look out of the leadoff spot

Oct 4, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner (2) waits on deck during the
Oct 4, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner (2) waits on deck during the / Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

For years, the Chicago Cubs have tried - and failed - to replicate the spark atop the lineup Dexter Fowler provided during his two years as the team's leadoff hitter. During that stretch, the outfielder put up a .367 OBP, setting the table masterfully, especially during the team's 2016 World Series run.

Now, it looks like manager David Ross, Fowler's teammate for those two years, believes he has that long-sought answer to the leadoff spot in Nico Hoerner.

Last season in 135 games, Hoerner put up a 106 wRC+ while establishing himself defensively as an elite shortstop for the Cubs. With the offseason addition of Dansby Swanson though, he'll shift back to second base in 2023 - a position he was a National League Gold Glove finalist at back in 2020.

Hoerner has shown that he's a guy who will make a ton of contact. But he's definitely not that prototypical leadoff man persona (the guy who has top-tier speed, works counts and sees a ton of pitches, etc.) In fact, in 2022, he walked at just a 5.4 percent clip - which ranked in the bottom 14 percent of the league.

Cubs don't have many leadoff options outside Nico Hoerner

In an ideal world, you'd like to see him walk more - but probably not if it comes with a corresponding rise in strikeout rate. Hoerner was very strong in that regard last season, whiffing a career-low 11 percent of the time (which came in at the 98th percentile, for what it's worth). His game is pretty clear - make a ton of contact and put the ball in play almost every time he's at the dish.

Looking at the options at the Cubs' disposal, I can't say there's a better choice on this roster than Hoerner. There was a point Nick Madrigal would have gotten a vote from me, and we will likely still see him lead off a few times this year when he's in the lineup, but 2023 is about him staying healthy and carving out a role where he can get back to doing what made him a top prospect and first-round pick.

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Hoerner is the clear choice here. Like I said, hopefully, he can find a way to push that walk rate closer to 10 percent - as he did in 2021 - without sacrificing his bat-to-ball approach. One thing's for sure: he definitely has the mindset that could help him be really successful in the role for the Cubs in 2023 and beyond.