The Cubs’ plan for Nico Hoerner
Nico Hoerner is back in Chicago and the big question is: How much will he play?
He is one of the organization’s most promising young players and a big part of the future. When they sent Hoerner down at the end of spring training, David Ross and the Cubs told him he would be the first guy up if there was ever an injury.
That’s exactly how it played out, as Hoerner took Joc Pederson’s roster spot when the veteran outfielder landed on the 10-day IL with left wrist tendinitis.
Ross went to Hoerner as the first guy off the bench in Thursday night’s win and the 23-year-old was in the starting lineup Friday afternoon against the Brewers, hitting 8th and playing second base. He went 3-for-4 with 2 doubles, a walk and an RBI. All 3 of his batted balls clocked in over 103.3 mph.
The Cubs don’t know how long Pederson will be out and aren’t putting a ton of focus on where Horner fits on this roster in the big picture. They believe he can help them win right now and it’s as simple as that.
“We gotta see how it plays out,” Ross said. “I don’t think there’s any timetable set. … It’s hard to get too far ahead of yourself in this game.”
Ross and the Cubs coaches will continue to play the matchups and try to set Hoerner up for success.
That was also the impetus behind sending Hoerner down in the first place once David Bote was named the everyday second baseman.
“I don’t think it’s fair for him to come off the bench and get stale and have sporadic at-bats. That’s not setting him up for success,” Ross said on March 27 when the Cubs sent Hoerner to the minors.
Even though Pederson and Hoerner don’t necessarily play the same position, the Cubs roster is full of versatile options. Kris Bryant can move to the outfield and Bote can slide over to third base, opening up a spot for Hoerner at second — which is how the Cubs lined up Friday.
Hoerner can also play third base and shortstop and has dabbled in the outfield as well, with 11 minor league games in center field and 4 appearances in the majors, including Friday (when he moved from second base to left field in the middle of the blowout victory).
“Nico’s a good player — I think he can help us out,” Ross said. “When you have someone go down, you call up your next best player. … Nico gives us a lot of versatility for starts and coming off the bench. With a short bench that we have and with one of our starters down, the next best player is Nico and we called him up.
“With the ability for Kris to play the outfield, it gives us a lot of flexibility of moving Nico around the infield and even in the outfield potentially at times if we need to.”
Hoerner spent the entirety of the shortened 2020 season with the big league club as the Cubs had a 28- or 30-man roster all year. He played in 48 games, seeing time at second base (22 starts), third base (6 starts), shortstop (4 starts) and center field (1 start).
His ability to put the ball in play brings another element to this lineup as he led the Cubs with an 82.9% contact rate last season.
Hoerner also finished as a finalist for the NL Gold Glove Award at second base and was credited with 5 Defensive Runs Saved at the position last season.