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Cubs getting a fresh dynamic from Nico Hoerner’s blend of skill and intangibles

4 years agoTony Andracki

Every day as he walks into the ballpark, Nico Hoerner passes by the manager’s office and shouts a quick “whattup, Skip?” to David Ross.

“I love it,” Ross said.

That’s part of the quiet confidence the rookie brings to this Cubs team that has impressed everybody he’s come into contact with.

Hoerner may not be turning in the same results at the plate as his 20-game stint last year (17 RBI, .282 AVG) but he’s still hitting the ball hard and brings a different dynamic to the Cubs lineup with his contact ability.

While he’s hitting only .196 on the season, the 23-year-old boasts an impressive 41.7% hard-contact rate this season and his expected batting average is actually .275 based on his batted-ball profile.

The weekend series against the Brewers epitomized Hoerner’s year at the plate. In the 9th inning of Friday’s loss, he stepped up to face Josh Hader — one of the nastiest pitchers in the game — and ripped a 103.8 mph liner to left field. It had an expected batting average of .580, but it was hit right at the defender and went down as an 0-for-1 in the scorebook.

Sunday afternoon, Hoerner again faced Hader and ultimately made the final out of the game, but he worked a 13-pitch at-bat and hit a 100.4 mph liner. It had an expected batting average of a whopping .910, but again, it was right at a defender.

After Sunday’s game, Hoerner wasn’t too upset about his tough luck, instead relishing the fact that he was in a great situation and did everything he could to try to help his team win the game.

“Obviously a guy [Hader] who’s dominated the league for a couple years,” he said. “That’s a situation as a baseball player you want to be in — down 1 against a division rival and against their guy.

“I felt comfortable, I felt confident. Expected to have success there and move on. Nothing to really change.”

Hoerner’s contact rate (84.5%) leads the Cubs and brings a welcome addition to a team that finished last in baseball in that area in 2019 (73.8% contact rate).

“He’s got great bat-to-ball skills,” Ross said. “He’s a contact-oriented guy. I think he’s continued to develop in his skillset. He’s a guy that brings energy.

“He’s very even-keeled every day — same attitude. That’s unique for a young guy with energy. You like having him on the team, you like having him around. His at-bats are great. I like contact-oriented bats. He’s got room to grow in some areas but for a guy with such short time in the big leagues, it’s really impressive.”

Hoerner also gives the Cubs valuable depth up the middle, starting a game in center field earlier in the season and filling in for Javy Báez at shortstop Sunday to give the star a day off. Ross also said Hoerner was taking groundballs at third base the other day just in case.

That’s all in addition to 11 starts at second base.

“He’s just a baseball player,” Ross said. “He loves the game so much. I ask him to play center, he’s all for it, he tells me he can’t wait. … Wherever you put him, he’s excited.”

Hoerner is only 36 games into his MLB career, but he continues to earn the respect of his teammates.

“Can’t say enough about the kid,” Kyle Schwarber said. “The way that he’s going about playing the game. The short time that he spent with us last year and being able to step in and playing a pretty big role in a lot of these games, slapping some really good at-bats on guys, playing really great defense out there and bringing a consistent attitude to the field every day of trying to get his work and wanting to help the team win every day.

“The work ethic, the character and just what he’s doing out there on the field — it’s great. Just keep slapping some good at-bats on guys and I don’t expect anything less out of him.”

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