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‘Here to stay’: Nico Hoerner is impressing in every facet of the game with Cubs

1 month agoTony Andracki

No player in the National League swings and misses at a lower rate than Nico Hoerner.

The Cubs have talked for years about diversifying their lineup — adding in more contact to go with the power bats. They’ve always known Hoerner can be that guy and he’s proving it this season.

Among players with at least 300 swings in the NL this season, Hoerner whiffs only 14.3% of the time (entering play Wednesday).

When Hoerner struck out in his first at-bat Wednesday evening, it marked only his 5th strikeout of June — compared to 6 walks.

He bounced back immediately in his next at-bat, driving a 2-run double to the wall in left-center to extend his hitting streak to 7 games (which ties his career high).

With a 3-hit night Tuesday against the Reds, Hoerner became the first Cub with 5 straight multi-hit games since Jon Jay turned the trick in September 2017:

“He’s got a nice rhythm to his swing,” David Ross said. “It seems like his bat’s in the zone for a really long time and he’s playing the ball up the middle. You got a lot of room for error when you do that.

“He’s just in one of those spaces right now that’s a good place to be as a hitter.”

Hoerner has actually been in this “space” for a while now.

Ever since he returned from a fluke ankle injury, Hoerner has hit .333 with a .376 on-base percentage and .821 OPS in 30 games.

That has brought his season batting line up to .304/.341/.425.

Hoerner is not one to spend much time answering questions about himself, preferring to let his play do the talking. He doesn’t feel like anything has changed with his approach or preparation over the last month.

“Overall, I’m feeling aggressive, strong,” Hoerner said. “We were in some close games, which always makes it more fun, too. Some big spots.”

Hoerner has always enjoyed hitting in big spots — he is a career .349 hitter with runners in scoring position. That number actually jumps to a .446 average with 2 outs and runners in scoring position.

Hoerner’s contributions don’t end in the batter’s box. He came into the season determined to prove he can stick at shortstop long-term and he has accomplished exactly that — and then some.

He leads all MLB shortstops in Outs Above Average (+10), nearly double the next player (San Diego’s Ha-Seong Kim — +6 OAA). Only two players in baseball have a higher mark at any position — second basemen Jonathan Schoop (+17) and Tommy Edman (+11).

“Nico has definitely established himself as a piece and a really good big leaguer,” Ross said. “His growth on a daily basis stands out — the questions he asks, the areas he wants to improve and still go through a season. He’s doing a really nice job of holding down our middle infield and being as consistent of a player as he’s ever been.

“It’s been nice to see him kind of put his flag in the ground and [say], ‘I’m here, I’m here to stay.’ It’s been nice to see his growth for sure.”

Hoerner’s journey has not exactly been linear. The 24th overall pick in 2018, he missed several months that season with an elbow injury. In 2019, he was promoted to the majors as the Cubs were in the middle of a pennant race in September when the team was in desperate need of a shortstop.

Then there was the COVID-shortened season, where Hoerner shifted over to second base and emerged as a Gold Glove candidate at the position. In 2021, he did not make the Opening Day roster and after he was called up in April, he wound up on the injured list four different times throughout the next five months.

With Javy Báez gone and the Cubs looking for a long-term shortstop, Hoerner has answered the call emphatically.

“He’s been waiting on and just being able to maximize his opportunity when he’s out there and being able to prove who he is,” Ross said. “He’s doing it. He’s a big league shortstop. He’s a really good one.”

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