Hoerner was the team captain for three years at Head Royce High School in Oakland, California. Nico never missed one game in high school baseball. He also lettered two years in soccer and one in basketball.
In the summer of 2015, Hoerner volunteered at an orphanage in Peru, Alameda Food Bank, St. Vincent de Paul Community Center.
Nico's mother, Kella Diehl, graduated from Stanford in 1985. His father is Fred Hoerner.
Hoerner was off to Stanford on a baseball scholarship in 2016.
Following his sophomore season, Nico spent the summer in the Cape Cod League with Yarmouth-Dennis. And he earned all-star honors. He was one of the most consistent players in the league, putting together professional at bats and barreling up balls.
Hoerner has an excellent approach to the game.
June 2018: Nico was the Cubs #1 pick, out of Stanford. And Hoerner signed for a bonus of $2,724,000, via scout Gabe Zappin.
Most of Nico's free time was spent on the baseball field, simply because that's where he wanted to be. Hoerner never needed his family or an AAU coach to push him to get out on the diamond. His fire to be successful has always come from within.
"I think why baseball has continued to be so enjoyable for me is that I was never supposed to play college baseball or supposed to get drafted," Hoerner said in August, 2018. "It wasn't part of some bigger plan that any coach or my parents had for me It's just a relationship with the game that has developed naturally.
"It was never working hard so that I could go to Stanford or that I could be a first rounder. It was just to be the best that I could be, and that remains true." (Phil Barnes - Vine Line - August, 2018)
2018 Season: Though he played just 14 games in his pro debut before straining ligaments in his left elbow while diving for a ball, that was long enough to show why scouts considered him one of the best offensive-minded middle infielders available. Hoerner has exceptional hand-eye coordination, an advanced approach and developing power.
In 2019, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Hoerner as the #1 prospect in the Cubs' farm system.
There was a moment last season when David Esquer, Stanford’s head baseball coach, had to pull Nico Hoerner aside. Esquer needed to tell the young shortstop to stop playing so hard.
“He had a little bit of a hamstring issue,” Esquer said. “I had to say, ‘Hey, Nico, I need you to kind of big league it when you hit a grounder to second. I don’t need you to run like your hair’s on fire.’”
Esquer said that message was hard for Hoerner to hear, because winning was all the infielder cared about. But, Hoerner was willing to slow himself down if his coach felt it was best for the team in the long run.
Now in the Cubs’ system, the 21-year-old Hoerner is again showing a willingness to do what the team believes is best with the long-view in mind. He’s open-minded about analytics. He’s open to moving off shortstop in the name of increasing versatility. He has tweaked his stance, changed his arm slot, identified two-strike approach as an area to improve and craves as much information and input as possible.
“He’s just that special player,” Esquer said. “His game directly translates into the big league game. And his work ethic and just his love of the game, he was a game-changing personality for us at Stanford. There are those program changers — just all into the team, just tough mentality and real supportive of his teammates.
“He’s just driven to win and really just selling out for his team. And I knew that would translate with the Cubs. It’s a perfect match.” (Jordan Bastian - MLB.com - March 21, 2019)
MLB debut - Sept. 10, 2019: Nico Hoerner, an unexpected callup even to himself, made his Major League debut a stylish one by collecting three hits and four RBIs to lead the Cubs to a 10-2 victory over the Padres at Petco Park. Hoerner had the numerous Cubs fans who invaded Petco Park chanting “Nico! Nico! Nico!” during his surprise unveiling.
Oct 18, 2019: The Cubs were not planning on promoting Nico Hoerner to the big leagues this past 2019 season, but circumstances did a number on those plans and Hoerner put on the kind of show down the stretch that might just keep him in the Major Leagues come Opening Day, 2020.
Hoerner was home in California in early September -- fresh off the end of his season with Double-A Tennessee -- when an emergency struck and the Cubs broke the glass. With both Javier Báez and Addison Russell out with injuries, the rookie settled into shortstop and more than held his own as he learned to navigate the big leagues on the fly.
"Incredibly impressive feat," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "We can sit here now and say there are X, Y and Z developmental goals that he needs to accomplish in Triple-A, even though he's been in the big leagues for a few weeks. Those can be valid, but they might not apply to him.
"He might have a great offseason and show up and be more than ready. We're not ready to make that decision, but he's a pretty special kid and brings a lot to the table for any team."
The 22-year-old Hoerner, who was taken in the first round (24th overall) of the 2018 MLB Draft out of Stanford, hit .282/.305/.436 with three homers, 13 runs and 17 RBIs in 20 games for the Cubs. That came after he hit .284/.344/.399 in Double-A, where he started 40 games at short, 14 at second and 11 in center field in an injury-shortened season.
Nico was the first player from the 2018 Draft to make his major league debut.
"It's both getting results," Hoerner said, "but also just the feeling in your gut that the same things you've done your whole life well, you still do well. And the same things you need to work on continue to be true. It's a place where, when you do have things you need to work on, they get exposed quickly. But we also have great resources here to work on your game.
"So, there's both sides of it. I think it's been awesome. It's staying present and winning each game and at-bat and pitch, but also developing at the same time. I don't think it's the kind of thing that, just because I'm here, the development stops or anything like that. I've learned more than ever here."
What went right?
Hoerner made it into 14 Cactus League games during Spring Training and immediately made a strong impression. The shortstop hit .471 (8-for-17) with no strikeouts and six extra-base hits with the Major League club in preseason play. Hoerner finished his campaign with Double-A Tennessee strong after injuries threatened to hinder his development. Then, when Chicago needed a shortstop in the thick of a playoff race for the final few weeks, Hoerner stepped in seamlessly and put himself firmly on the map for 2020.
"I think it lets people know that I'm going to do my best regardless of the situation to be consistent and be who I am," Hoerner said in September. "No one's looking at batting average or stats right now. The sample size is too small. It's just playing with composure -- I think that matters. It's just letting people know that I'm ready for what comes my way."
What went wrong?
Hoerner was hit on the left hand by a pitch on April 23 and sustained a hairline fracture of his left wrist. That injury cost him two months on the shelf and took a toll on his production following his return to Double-A Tennessee on July 4. Hoerner hit .232 with a .637 OPS in 25 games in July before starting to look more like himself at the plate in August and September.
Neither Hoerner nor Cubs fans will soon forget his historic MLB debut.
On Sept. 9, Hoerner collected four RBIs, three hits (including a triple) and two runs scored in a 10-2 romp over the Padres. Hoerner joined Joey Gallo (2015), Mark Quinn (1999), Ben Grieve (1997) and Bob Nieman (1951) as the only players since at least 1908 to have at least two runs, three hits and four RBIs in their MLB debut. Hoerner and Dee Fondy (1951) are the only Cubs players with at least three hits and four RBIs in their debut with the franchise.
"You could have just put a spotlight on him the entire evening," former Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after Hoerner's debut. "He made some really good plays, had some really good at-bats, ran the bases well. None of that really surprised us. That's what he’s capable of doing."
Two positions on the field the Cubs need to address this offseason are second base and center field. Offensively, they posted a collective 81 wRC+ at second (19 percent below the MLB average) and an 87 wRC+ in center (13 percent below average). Hoerner spent the bulk of his time at shortstop in September, 2019 but started at second on Sept. 28 and then in center on Sept. 29. The Cubs wanted to get a look at him at those spots before breaking for the offseason.
Expect Hoerner to compete for a big league job next spring, 2010. Assuming Báez is healthy and at shortstop, second base looks like the most natural fit for the rookie. Hoerner is open-minded to whatever the Cubs have planned for him.
"Playing in the middle of the field in the Major Leagues is not a hard sell for me," Hoerner said. "Wherever they need me." (J Bastian - MLB.com - Oct 18, 2019)
Jan 13, 2020: Nico Hoerner thought about the question for a moment, but what he experienced last fall kept jumping to the forefront of his mind. The Cubs' rookie was asked for his favorite moment in baseball to date. His mind's eye saw the ivy-covered wall and sea of red-and-blue filling the stands.
"My first game at Wrigley Field," Hoerner said during MLB's Rookie Development Program in Miami last week. "It's a recent memory, but it is probably the biggest high I've had on a baseball field of just pure joy."
It was just the fifth game of Hoerner's career, which was fast-tracked when the Cubs needed a shortstop for the stretch run in September. In a year's time, Hoerner ascended to Wrigley Field from Stanford, and his first at-bat in the Friendly Confines resulted in a two-run homer that had the old ballpark shaking in a romp over the Pirates.
The blast came on the first pitch Hoerner received -- a fitting glimpse into the approach the rookie took in his first taste of the big leagues. The 22-year-old Hoerner, who will come to camp as a candidate for Chicago's second-base job this spring, was learning on the fly. Under the circumstances, he did not think being tentative was the right route.
At MLB's annual program -- one also attended by Cubs prospects Robel Garcia, Tyson Miller and Zack Short -- Hoerner said his aggressiveness in the batter's box was intentional. It helped lead to some memorable moments, but it also exposed some things that Hoerner knows he has to work on in order to help the 2020 Cubs as much as possible.
"I went into it wanting to be aggressive," Hoerner said. "I knew that mistakes would come with that, but I didn't want to be passive about it. And with that came, I didn't control the strike zone -- like, at all. So, that's definitely something I know I can get better at." (J Bastian - MLB.com - Jan 13, 2020)
Feb 17, 2020: Jason Kipnis remembers what it was like being a highly-touted prospect asked to man second base in the big leagues. As a veteran now competing for a job with the Cubs, Kipnis does not want top prospect Nico Hoerner to view him as an obstacle.
"I'll get to know him," Kipnis said. "I know he came up and had pretty good success. So, I think he's going to be a competition, but at the same time, I'm not going to try to put him down. I'd like to work with him and kind of teach him what I know, too, and hopefully, both of us become better from it."
Hearing that meant a lot to the 22-year-old Hoerner.
"That's amazing. I really appreciate that," Hoerner said. "At the end of the day, we're all in this together and it's toward the same goal. So, hopefully, we can help each other in that way. And when you do have other people that are competing for the same thing, I think that elevates everybody."
During the first full-squad workout, Kipnis went through infield drills at second base with David Bote and Daniel Descalso. Hoerner, who filled in admirably as the Cubs' shortstop in September, got work in at short with Javier Báez. Expect Hoerner to spend time at both spots throughout the spring as he fights for an Opening Day job.
Hoerner's clearest path to the 26-man roster is as the second baseman, but the Cubs are weighing whether sending him to Triple-A Iowa for more development is the proper approach. Chicago is also exploring how to handle the distribution of playing time at second. There could be mixing and matching with a righty (Bote or Hoerner) and lefty (Kipnis or Descalso).
Hoerner is happy to have three players with plenty of big league experience that he can lean on this spring. The prospect credited both Bote and Descalso for already being a big help since last season. Over the offseason, Hoerner and Descalso also worked out together some at Stanford.
"I would say of all the people in this locker room," Hoerner said, "Bote and Descalso last year, when I got called up, were two of the absolute best for me." (J Bastian - MLB.com - Feb 17, 2020)
April 23, 2020: When the coronavirus pandemic stopped spring training last month, Ian Happ offered Nico Hoerner, Zack Short and Dakota Mekkes a place to stay if they wanted to remain in Arizona.
That's how “The Compound” was born.
Happ, Hoerner, Short and Mekkes — four players from the Cubs' organization — are living together while they await word on the baseball season. In addition to their workouts and tennis matches, they also are doing a podcast and posting videos of their day-to-day life at the house.
“I think it just helps to have camaraderie in this time,” Happ said. “A lot of guys are at home, away from the team and kind of missing that element. So for us, just to be around teammates, around guys that understand the uncertainty, understand what each other are going through, yeah, it's definitely nice.”
Major League Baseball is looking at several different scenarios while trying to play as many games as possible this summer. One of the possibilities is holding every game at facilities in Arizona, or possibly including Florida in the mix.
When spring training was suspended March 12 because of the COVID-19 crisis, ballplayers in Arizona and Florida had to decide whether they wanted to head home or remain in their spring spot. Happ was staying in the poolhouse at the home of a family friend who wasn't going to return to Arizona anytime soon, so he invited Hoerner, Short and Mekkes to live with him.
“I didn't want to, God forbid, catch something on the way home or something like that, bring it home,” said Short, an infielder from Kingston, New York. “So I tried my best to stay away from going home and ever since then we've been here.”
The players borrowed some equipment from the Cubs' training facility in Mesa and set up a workout area in the garage and driveway that they call their prison yard. They also play tennis, basketball, golf and swim depending on the day.
The 24-year-old Short said they play doubles about four times a week. He teams with Hoerner to take on Happ and Mekkes.
“It's honestly really competitive because we're also, we're not very good at all,” Short said. “So, I mean, it kind of goes either way.”
While many players have wrestled with how to continue their preparations for an uncertain season, Happ and his housemates are hoping their cross training will help when it comes time to begin ramping up for baseball again.
“We talked about this a little bit as a team, but when guys come back from being away like this, it's a lot of soft tissue injuries,” Happ said, “and I think for us, just being able to stay as active as we are, the amount of stress that tennis puts on your body and all the different muscles you're working, I think that that for us has been a real advantage. I feel like my body is in as good if not a better place than it was when I came into spring training this year.”
Happ was the main engine behind the podcast — titled “The Compound,” of course. So far, guests have included Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester and quality control coach Mike Napoli from the Cubs, and actor Jeff Garlin, a big Cubs fan.
Hoerner, 22, who went to Stanford before he was selected by Chicago in the first round of the 2018 draft, has been leading the editing on the videos.
“I have respect for content creators who are constantly putting stuff out because it's not easy to stay on top of,” Happ said. (Jay Cohen)
May 9, 2020: Nico's tribute to his mom on Mothers Day:
"Here’s my best baseball memory with my mom. ... A lot of guys get their callup on a bus in the middle of nowhere during the season, but I actually was at home in Oakland after the Minor League season. My mom and I were watching the U.S. Open on TV when I got the call. I hung up and we looked at each other with this memorable combination of disbelief and excitement.
"This quickly changed to chaos as we tried to get everything ready to get on the next flight to San Diego. It was very fitting to have my mom as the one to send me off, considering all she did to get me to that point." -- infielder Nico Hoerner.
2020 Season: The 23-year old infielder’s high baseball IQ and defensive prowess helped him get acclimated to the major league game quickly. He was one of the best defenders in the National League with a plus-five in defensive runs saved in 2020 and was a finalist for the NL Gold Glove Award.
The offense is where the development questions remain for the second-year second baseman. Hoerner had a .222/.312/.259 slash line with zero homers in 2020.
As of the start of the 2021 season, Nico had a career Major League batting average of .247 with 3 homers and 30 RBI in 186 at-bats.
Nov 23, 2021: Nico Hoerner has witnessed the impact that more established players like Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo have made away from the field in Chicago. The young Cubs infielder has picked Ian Happ's brain on his own charitable endeavors.
Hoerner has not been in the big leagues long enough to accrue the kind of resources required to build a foundation and fund major projects. But he has embraced the city and has sought ways to get involved beyond the diamond.
"That's something I'd really like to be able to do one day," Hoerner said of the work some of his current and former teammates have done in the community. "What they've recommended was just getting your feet wet doing other stuff and see what's out there, because it's not just going to happen overnight."
That is one reason why Hoerner joined Cubs Charities to help with the group's annual partnership with National Runaway Safeline to help pack and deliver meals to shelters across the city. It marks the 16th year that Cubs Charities has teamed up with the group, which aims to keep runaway, homeless and at-risk teens off the streets. (J Bastian - MLB.com - Nov 24, 2021)
2021 Season: He’s also coming off a season in which he was limited to 44 games due to four separate stints on the injured list. That might be the biggest part of the puzzle that the Cubs need to see from him — that he can stay on the field.
As last season ended, Hoerner talked about re-examining what he did last offseason, when he focused on his conditioning and came to spring training noticeably fit.
“I don't think it's as much of anything I did wrong with maybe things that I can add or supplement with it,” Hoerner said the final weekend of last season. “It’s about finding a balance that works for me.”
For now, the Cubs don’t view it as a concern. And when he was healthy, Hoerner was an impactful part of the Cubs’ lineup.
Hoerner finished 2021 hitting .302 with a .382 on-base percentage. He contributed to one of the lineup’s best stretches of the season after getting called up in late April. (TIM STEBBINS - Jan. 17, 2022)
2022 Season: Hoerner is coming off a campaign in which he hit 10 homers and stole 20 bases over 135 games.
Nico Hoerner looked like a character in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, sitting in front of his locker Monday night with a smile on his face and a cowboy hat on his head. La Bouche’s “Be My Lover,” a 1990s Eurodance song, blasted from the sound system inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse as the Cubs savored their first walk-off win of the young season.
“Yan (Gomes) put it on my head,” Hoerner said. “We’ve got some sort of celebratory hat that I guess I’ve been assigned to. That’s what we’re going with. I wouldn’t read too much into it.”
There was something refreshing about the smirk on Hoerner’s face as he walked back into the locker room, noticed a group of reporters around Gomes and threw the cowboy hat at the veteran catcher.
“I just saw the hat and I was like, ‘Yeah, he’s the new sheriff in town,’” Gomes said. “Things like that happen organically. I literally just saw it laying around and I just grabbed it and said, ‘Hey, Nico’s got to wear this to do interviews.’”
Even Hoerner — who finalized his three-year, $35 million contract extension before Opening Day to cement his status as a core player at Wrigley Field — didn’t stick to the one-game-at-a-time script.
“It felt significant to win that game,” Hoerner said, “just to know you can beat good teams in close games and do the extra-inning game. All that stuff matters.” (Mooney - Apr 11, 2023 - The Athletic)
- Jan 13, 2023: Nico avoided arbitration agreeing to a one-year deal with the Cubs worth $2.525 million.
- March 27, 2023: Cubs and Hoerner agree to a 3-year, $35 million extension covering the 2024-26 seasons. Hoerner avoided arbitration with a $2.525 million deal for 2023 over the offseason, and the extension now covers what would have been two more years in the arbitration process. The third year allows the Cubs to keep Hoerner at least one extra season while giving him the opportunity to test free agency before his 30th birthday.
|Birth City:||Oakland, CA|
|Draft:||Cubs #1 - 2018 - Out of Stanford Univ. (CA)|
Hoerner has a quick, short righthanded stroke and the ability to consistently barrel the ball, nailing line-drives for lots of doubles, and his home runs were be more often as he develops as a hitter.
Somewhat of a surprise pick at No. 24 overall in the 2018 Draft, Hoerner made the Cubs look smart by hitting everywhere he went in pro ball before batting .282 with three homers in 20 games as an emergency callup last September, 2019. With his excellent hand-eye coordination, compact right-handed swing and disciplined approach, he's one of the best pure hitters in the Minors. (Spring 2020)
Nico exhibits a real mastery of the strike zone and elite bat-to-ball skills. He uses an inside-out swing to deposit hits all over the field, but he can find the seats when he hunts his pitch.
Multiple evaluators used the word "grinder” to describe Hoerner, meaning that his raw tools don’t overwhelm but that his skill level and game awareness make him a winning player. (Matt Eddy - BA - Spring, 2020)
Hoerner’s knack for putting the bat on the ball stands out, but that contact did not come with a significant skew toward one side of the field. He sprayed line drives from gap to gap, though most of his power was to his pull side.
As suggested by his contact skills, Hoerner also showed an excellent approach with two strikes and did not give away at-bats. Those skills give him a chance to be a plus hitter with below-average power. (Josh Norris - Baseball America Prospect Handbook - Spring, 2019)
Nico has the athleticism, aptitude, bat speed and hand-eye coordination to work with their hitting instructors and maximize his launch angle.
Nico's approach to the game and advanced feel for hitting drew many supporters heading into the 2018 June Draft.
He is an elite contact guy that can barrel a ball up in the zone.
"I never will be a home run hitter," Hoerner said. "Home runs are something that will happen as I learn to use my body and learn the pitchers. That's what all the guys [Cubs players he met with] were telling me. All of them didn't hit for power in the Minor Leagues and now they're clearing the bleachers."
That was the message Hoerner got from Cubs' hitting coach Chili Davis. The Bay Area native grew up an A's fan and remembers Davis from his time as Oakland's hitting coach.
"He talked about just learning to hit and the power coming," Hoerner said. "We're in an age of baseball that talks so much about swing mechanics and he talked about competing with the pitcher. That's refreshing to hear." (Muskat - mlb.com - 7/19/18)
During one stretch in Spring Training 2019, Nico reached base in eight consecutive plate appearances. What stood out to Cubs manager Joe Maddon was Hoerner's preparation before those at-bats.
"He's very composed for a young man," Maddon said. "A very bright young man. He really sees things and analyzes in advance. His commentary with me when he's in the hole before he goes to the on-deck circle is always poignant. He's always on top of things. I've been impressed with all of that." (Bastian - mlb.com - 3/21/19)
Sept 9, 2019: The Cubs’ stopgap solution at shortstop just wouldn’t stop at Petco Park. Nico Hoerner, an unexpected callup even to himself, made his Major League debut a stylish one by collecting three hits and four RBIs to lead the Cubs to a 10-2 victory over the Padres. Hoerner had the numerous Cubs fans who invaded Petco Park chanting “Nico! Nico! Nico!” during his surprise unveiling.
“That was about as good as it gets right there,” Hoerner said.
The callup was a surprise not because of his talent. MLB Pipeline ranks Hoerner as the Cubs’ top prospect and the No. 47 prospect in baseball. It was a surprise because Hoerner was chilling back home in Oakland after completing the Minor League season with Double-A Tennessee. He was preparing to play with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League.
But Javier Baez went down with a left thumb fracture on Sept. 1. And the next man up, Addison Russell, was hit by a pitch in the head and was in concussion protocol. Even Triple-A Iowa shortstop Dixon Machado was injured.
So Hoerner got the call and jetted down to San Diego, thrust in the middle of the Cubs’ pursuit of the postseason. By the time the game ended, he had become only the second Cubs player in history to record three hits and four RBIs in his big league debut, joining Dee Fondy, who did it on April 17, 1951, at Wrigley Field vs. the Reds.
“You could have just put a spotlight on him the entire evening,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He made some really good plays, had some really good at-bats, ran the bases well. None of that really surprised us. That’s what he’s capable of doing.”
Before Hoerner took the field, Maddon praised Hoerner’s “bat-to-ball skills” and noted his self-confidence.
Hoerner made good on Maddon’s assessment in his first Major League plate appearance, poking an 0-2 slider from Cal Quantrill into right field for a single to lead off the second inning.
“He didn’t try to pull it; he didn’t try to do too much with it,” Maddon said. “He’s got some nice skills.”
Two innings later, Hoerner reached on a forceout and came around to score his first run, diving headfirst into home plate after a wild pitch by Quantrill. In the fifth, Hoerner pulled a 1-0 slider from Quantrill down the left-field line and into the corner for a triple and his first two RBIs.
Hoerner, a 22-year-old who was the Cubs’ first-round pick in the 2018 fraft, had crossed paths with Quantrill at Stanford in 2016 when he was a freshman and the future Padres right-hander was a junior on the mend from Tommy John surgery. Hoerner texted their common college teammate, Cardinals infielder Tommy Edman, and got an updated report on Quantrill.
“He said he’s more slider-sinker now,” Hoerner revealed.
Funny thing is, Maddon had told Hoerner not to worry about scouting reports and to just go out and play.
Cubs fans, many clustered behind the visitor’s dugout on the third-base side, broke into their “Nico! Nico! Nico” chant.
“That was probably the most unexpected part of today,” Hoerner said. “On the baseball side of it, I thought it was solid. That part of it, obviously, is otherwordly. That’s not something you get in every organization, regardless of how well you play.”
Hoerner’s debut was not just one of those memorable baseball moments. It buoyed the Cubs right when they needed some good vibes.
“It’s huge,” winning pitcher Kyle Hendricks said of Hoerner’s immediate impact. “It just brings a whole different energy. It lifts the whole ballclub up. We were so fired up for him in the dugout. It’s just awesome to see somebody come up and perform, have a game like that right out of the gate.” (S O'Neill - MLB.com - Sept 9, 2019)
2019 Season: The 22-year-old Hoerner, who was taken in the first round (24th overall) of the 2018 MLB Draft out of Stanford, hit .282/.305/.436 with three homers, 13 runs and 17 RBIs in 20 games for the Cubs. That came after he hit .284/.344/.399 in Double-A, where he started 40 games at short, 14 at second and 11 in center field in an injury-shortened season.
Although he doesn’t hit for a ton of power, Hoerner has an advanced approach, makes consistent contact and has the speed to swipe a few bags.
Jan 19, 2020: The Cubs have been on the hunt for consistency from the leadoff spot for the past few seasons. It is a hot-button topic within the fan base, and one that was raised again in the Minor League panel on the final day of Cubs Convention.
A fan in attendance asked the new leadership of the farm system -- senior director of player development Matt Dorey and director of player development Bobby Basham -- if there was a future leadoff hitter being groomed in the Minors. While the Cubs' development process is not that narrow, Dorey did name Nico Hoerner as a potential fit for that role down the road.
"It might be Nico Hoerner -- quite frankly," Dorey told the crowd. "He doesn't swing and miss. He doesn't strike out. He didn't show that enough last year in terms of grinding out at-bats or earning his walks, but he can really run."
The 22-year-old Hoerner -- ranked as the Cubs' No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline -- provided a spark for Chicago down the stretch last season as a fill-in at shortstop for the injured Javier Báez. This season, Hoerner will come to Spring Training as a candidate to win the vacancy at second base, though it is also possible that he opens the year with Triple-A Iowa.
The Cubs used 11 players in the leadoff spot in the 2029 season (increasing the total to 17 used in the past three years combined) and that group turned in a .212 average with a .677 OPS and 77 wRC+ in '19.
In 20 games with the Cubs, Hoerner hit .282/.305/.436 with three homers, 13 runs scored and 17 RBIs in September. He intentionally adopted a more aggressive approach in the batter's box, which worked well for the first half of his stint with the North Siders. It also helped identify some areas of weakness for Hoerner to focus on for 2020.
"He knew that the league didn't know him and he wanted to try to get off his 'A' swing as soon as he could early in an at-bat," Dorey said. "A big part of his developmental plan moving forward will be his, I don't want to say plate discipline, but just making better decisions and having the ability and the comfort to grind out at-bats with two strikes.
"I think that's what we'll evaluate in Spring Training and Nico's hyper-aware of that. We'll see how that plays out."( J Bastian - MLB.com - Jan 19, 2020)
In 2019, Hoerner skipped Triple-A Iowa and jumped into a playoff race, hitting .282 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in his first 20 games.
"He knew that the league didn’t know him,” said Matt Dorey, the scouting director who drafted Hoerner and now is the organization’s senior director of player development. "He wanted to try to get off his ‘A’ swing as soon as he could early in an at-bat" to avoid hitting with two strikes.
"A big part of his development plan moving forward will be his—I don’t want to say 'plate discipline'—but just making better decisions and having the ability and the comfort to grind at-bats and hit with two strikes."
- As of the start of the 2021 season, Nico's career Major League stats were: .247 batting average, 3 home runs, with 30 RBI in 186 at-bats.
Nico exhibits quick-twitch athleticism moving to balls. He has solid shortstop skills across the board, except that his arm is more suited to second base, lacking the strength for the long throw from the hole.
Hoerner is a dependable fielder at shortstop and second base with an accurate arm.
Nico runs well enough to play center field.
His baseball instincts are off the charts.
Hoerner is not very fluid or smooth in his actions at shortstop. But he flashes the athleticism that should make him an up-the-middle defender.
“We knew he’d be able to handle the challenge mentally,” farm director Jaron Madisonsaid. “We weren’t sure if the missed time would affect him, but he was locked in.
“From the first couple games, he showed really well on both sides of the ball. With his maturity and leadership, we knew he was going to be able to hold his own and do well there. He probably even exceeded our expectations.” (Josh Norris - Baseball America - 1/11/2019)
Defensively, he’s not going to wow evaluators with highlight reel plays or extraordinary range, but he’s not going to make many foolish mistakes, either. The Cubs compare him with the Cardinals’ Paul DeJong, who doesn’t jump off the page at shortstop but has managed to stick there because of his instincts.
Hoerner has the arm strength to stick at shortstop but needs to become more consistent with his mechanics. Specifically, the Cubs want him to work through the ball more often when he throws and use his momentum to keep the ball true to his target.
The Cubs see a scenario where Nico’s athleticism would allow him to move around the diamond, like Ian Happ. (BA Prospect Handbook - Josh Norris - Spring, 2019)
- Nico is a 6.8 seconds in the 60 runner. He has 55 grade speed.
- Hoerner is batting .305 with 40 hits and 23 runs scored through 30 games. Taking advantage of Major League Baseball’s new rules, he already has 11 stolen bases, putting him more than halfway toward his total last season (20) in 135 games. This is the leadoff threat the Cubs have been missing for most of the last six years, and they believe “we’ve only touched the edge of what he can be.” (Mooney - May 4, 2023 - The Athletic)
July 18-end of 2018 season: Hoerner was on the DL with a ligament strain in his left elbow, ending his season. But he was able to play in the fall in the AFL.
April 27-July 4, 2019: Nico was placed on the IL after being hit by a pitch on his wrist, fracturing it.
March 15, 2021: Despite his best effort at convincing manager David Ross otherwise, Nico Hoerner remained out of the Cubs’ lineup for the 4-4 tie vs. the White Sox, a day after getting scratched with lower back tightness.
But Hoerner should be back to resume his bid for the starting second-base job.
“He’s feeling much better,” Ross said. “He was fighting for me to put him in the lineup today, but it didn’t make sense with the off day [Tuesday].”
May 4-14, 2021: Nico was on the IL with left forearm strain following a collision with Ian Happ
May 12, 2021: Ross noted that Nico Hoerner (10-day IL, left forearm) took "a ton of ground balls" and ran the bases. Hoerner was slated to do some hitting, and barring any setbacks, he looks on target for activation against Detroit.
"Everything seems to be progressing well for Nico," Ross said.
May 25-July 4, 2021: Nico was on the IL with left hammy strain. After dropping down a bunt in the sixth inning of the 4-3 win over the Pirates, Hoerner stumbled as he crossed first base while sprinting to beat the throw from Pittsburgh reliever Clay Holmes. Hoerner fell to the ground and immediately grabbed his left leg. He was able to walk off the field under his own power, but the injury -- which manager David Ross deemed to be “mild to moderate” -- was enough to land Hoerner on the IL.
July 29-Sept 19, 2021: Nico was on the IL with right oblique strain.
Aug 4, 2021: During the Cubs' game on July 28, Hoerner grabbed his right side immediately after trying to check a swing, and exited with an oblique injury. After undergoing further testing, manager David Ross confirmed that the infielder is still "pretty far off." Hoerner is getting treatment and resting for now, and it is not set when he will be able to begin baseball activity. The Cubs are hopeful that the injury is not season-ending for Hoerner, who was in Denver with the Cubs on their current road trip. The setback comes after Hoerner missed June due to a left hamstring injury.
Aug 22, 2021: During a Minor League rehab appearance with High-A South Bend, Hoerner left in the middle of an at-bat in the third inning after feeling tension in his right oblique. That is the location of the injury that landed Hoerner on the 10-day injured list on July 29.
Ross noted that follow-up testing showed that Hoerner did not re-injure the oblique. Still, Chicago is going to take a cautious approach. The middle infielder will receive a handful of rest days before building back up through baseball activities.
"Smart move," Ross said ahead of the Cubs' game against the Rockies. That said, Ross is happy Hoerner played things safe.
Sept 15, 2021: Hoerner appeared in his second rehab game with Triple-A Iowa, going 1-for-3 with an RBI double. He also went first to third on a single after reaching on a hit-by-pitch. The infielder was expected to play another rehab game with Iowa before getting a day off. Hoerner could return for the weekend's series against the Brewers.
Sept 26, 2021: The Cubs scratched Hoerner from their Sept. 25 lineup and held him out again on Sept. 26 against the Cardinals due to what the team described as "general soreness." With an off-day on Sept. 27, manager David Ross felt it made sense to give Hoerner a three-day block to rest.
Sept 28-Oct 5, 2021: Nico was on the IL with right oblique tightness.
May 11, 2022: Hoerner exited the 7-5 victory over the Padres at Petco Park after a collision with an umpire. Hoerner sustained a right ankle sprain, the club said. X-rays were negative, but the team must wait until the swelling goes down before a final determination about the injury severity can be made. Hoerner might miss “a couple days,” manager David Ross said.
May 12-25, 2022: Nico was on the IL with a right ankle sprain.
May 9-19, 2023: Nico was on the IL with left hammy strain. Imaging showed a mild hamstring strain sustained on May 8 against St. Louis, but Hoerner was able to resume baseball activities two days later.
After discussing Hoerner’s likely timeline to return, Chicago decided to place him on the 10-day injured list on May 12, retroactive to May 9. Manager David Ross said Hoerner might have been able to return before 10 days, but a trip to the injured list made sense to give him extra time and allow the team to add Miles Mastrobuoni back to the roster to provide depth. Ross said he’s hopeful Hoerner will be ready to return after the 10 days are up.