How Nico Hoerner is making his case to be Cubs’ Opening Day starter at second base
MESA, Ariz. — In Nico Hoerner’s short tenure as a professional baseball player for the Cubs, he’s never had to make a trip that many prospects one day aspire to make: the trip from Des Moines, Iowa to Chicago.
His teammate Kyle Hendricks is keeping his fingers crossed Hoerner doesn’t have to make the drive across I-80.
“I hope he never has to experience it,” Hendricks said on Saturday. “We’d be all good with that. I think he would, too.”
Hoerner’s spring training play is making it hard for David Ross and the Cubs to not have him on the Opening Day roster or as the team’s starting second baseman. In 8 at-bats this spring, Hoerner has 7 hits with a home run, 2 RBIs, a stolen base and a 2.375 OPS.
“That’s impressive,” Ross said. “I don’t even know what that feels like. We were talking [Friday], I don’t think I’ve ever put together or seen many guys put together that many hard-hit balls and string ‘em together like that.”
But Hoerner isn’t too concerned with what’s he doing or what type of numbers he’s putting up. He’s more focused on going in each day, putting in his work and seeing the results unfold as they may. Because he knows that’s what he can control.
“I’ve been happy with the consistency of my work and using the resources and sticking to what I really preached this offseason and having it translate to games and keep a routine,” Hoerner said. “You do it for three games, OK now do it for a month and then do it for a year and then do it for a career. It’s just a good day by day and that’s how I try to evaluate things and go from there.”
That started in the offseason. At the end of last season, Hoerner took a look at what and where he succeeded at, but as importantly, he looked at his shortcomings and where he could improve.
“For me, there’s a lot of details behind it, but returning to being an athletic player in every part of the game and that’s who I’ve always thought of myself as,” Hoerner said. “It’s the players I’ve always looked up to.”
Ian Happ saw that firsthand. As a close friend on the team and a former roommate, Happ was a firsthand witness to Hoerner’s drive and commitment, especially during a tough sophomore season in 2020 where Hoerner hit .222 in 126 plate appearances.
“From a pure baseball standpoint and from a physical health standpoint, he eats, sleeps, breathes it,” Happ said. “His attitude through [the 2020 season], his positivity, his team-first, only caring about winning, not getting involved in what was happening to him and his numbers throughout the year, it was super impressive. From an attitude standpoint, mentality, he’s got everything right.”
It’s that type of moxie that has struck Ross.
“The work and the identifying where the problem was and working on it and mentally being strong enough to come in and play free and have confidence in that,” Ross said. “I’ve been very impressed.”
Hoerner’s play has caught the eyes of the Cubs’ pitchers, too. He’s on such a tear, that Alec Mills wouldn’t know how to get him out if he faced him.
“Just hope he hits it to somebody,” Mills joked. “I think that’s the best option right now.”