A lack of depth at shortstop has forced the Chicago Cubs to call up top prospect Nico Hoerner to fill a pivotal position as the team hunts for a playoff berth.
The Chicago Cubs are fighting to stay afloat in the National League playoff race as inconsistent play and injuries abound. Now, with just weeks left to sort their season out, the Cubs are forced to turn to their top prospect, Nico Hoerner, to fill their hole at shortstop.
Hoerner was the Cubs’ first selection in the 2018 MLB draft, going in the first round at pick number 24. The 22-year-old shortstop quickly made a splash, hitting very well in 14 games with three Cubs’ minor league affiliates and 21 games in the Arizona Fall League.
This spring, Hoerner generated quite a bit of buzz at Cubs camp. In limited time with the MLB squad, Hoerner went 8-for-17 at the plate with six extra-base hits. His impressive showing in the Cactus League earned him an assignment to the Double-A Tennessee Smokies to start the season.
The Cubs aggressive promotion of Hoerner seems to have paid off. Although he missed time early in the season with a fractured left wrist, Hoerner’s looked solid at the plate with the Smokies. In 294 plate appearances this season, he slashed .284/.344/.399 with three home runs, 22 RBI, eight stolen bases, and a 0.68 BB/K ratio.
Although Hoerner surely didn’t factor into the Cubs’ 2019 plans before the season started, both Javier Baez fracturing his thumb and Addison Russell being hit in the head with a pitch in the same week forced the team’s hand. Aside from promoting Hoerner, the team’s best option would have been to start David Bote at shortstop, but that would have created a huge defensive liability.
While Hoerner should hold his own in the field, it’s impossible to predict how he’ll fare at the plate. He’s never faced pitching above the Double-A level, but his prospect gradings can shed a bit of light on the tools he’ll bring to the Cubs lineup.
Unlike most recent Cubs prospects, Hoerner isn’t a power hitter. He’s a contact hitter with a good eye at the plate that also provides speed on the basepaths. That skill set has been evidenced in his short minor league career in which he’s produced a .297 batting average, .365 on-base percentage, 31 walks to just 36 strikeouts, and 14 stolen bases through a total of 89 games at varying levels.
Hoerner is raw and untested at this point of his young career, so it’s not fair to expect immediate success in the big leagues, but if he adjusts quickly, he could be a valuable piece at the bottom of the Cubs lineup.
It’s dangerous to rely heavily on an unproven rookie to produce down the stretch of a playoff race, but the Cubs don’t have any better option at this point. It’s desperation time for the Cubs, and Hoerner may prove to be the jump start that this team needs.
As if Hoerner needed something to play for besides earning his team a playoff spot, a strong showing from the 22-year-old would go a long way in making a case for him to make the Opening Day roster next season.