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Hoerner, Bohm's Opening Day Assignments Are Instructive

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Nico Hoerner (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

If history is any guide, Cubs fans hit the jackpot in last year’s draft when they selected Stanford shortstop Nico Hoerner. In fact, the way the Cubs have handled Hoerner in his first full season parallels the way they handled All-Star third baseman Kris Bryant a year after he was drafted No. 2 overall out of the University of San Diego.

Both players started out in the Rookie-level Arizona League for a brief tune-up, then adjusted to games under the lights in short-season (Bryant played 18 games for Boise, Hoerner lasted a week with Eugene) before moving to A-ball.

The only major difference is that Hoerner went to low Class A South Bend while Bryant went to high Class A Myrtle Beach. Notably, Hoerner played in just four games with South Bend before tearing a ligament in his thumb that ended his regular season.

The next step for both was the Arizona Fall League, an ambitious assignment considering the lengthy college season they’d just completed a few months prior. No matter, both tore up the famed prospect proving ground.

In 2013, Bryant hit .364/.457/.727 with six home runs in 20 games for Mesa. Five years later, Hoerner hit .337/.362/.506 with one long ball in the Fall League. Once the next season rolled around, the next step for both was Double-A. There, they joined some pretty excellent company.

While this doesn’t mean Hoerner will match Bryant’s production, it is unusual for a college draftee to jump straight to Double-A to begin their first full pro season.

Since 2010, Bryant is one of just six position players selected among the draft’s top-10 picks to begin his first full professional season in Double-A or higher. The other five? Mike Zunino (who started in Triple-A), Kyle Schwarber, Alex Bregman, Anthony Rendon and Christian Colon. Of that group, Colon is the only pick that seems like a whiff (even though he did score one of the most significant runs in franchise history).

And even though Hoerner wasn’t among the top-10 picks in last year’s draft (he went 24th), starting his first full season in Double-A is still a pretty rare feat. Baseball America looked at the top 40 picks from the last nine drafts and found that, of the 84 position players from four-year universities (we did not include JC selections Bryce Harper, Cory Spangenberg and Brian Goodwin), just 10 started their first full pro season at Double-A or higher.

Besides Zunino, Schwarber, Bryant, Bregman, Rendon and Colon, the rest of the list includes Trea Turner, Kolten Wong, Twins prospect Brent Rooker and Hoerner. That’s it. The eight players in that group who have made their big league debuts have racked up a trophy room full of honors, including a three All-Star appearances, one All-Star Game MVP, a Rookie of the Year and five spots among the top 10 in MVP voting, including 2016 winner Bryant.

His career is just starting, but the early signs are encouraging for Hoerner and the Cubs. On the other side of the ledger, there’s Alec Bohm and the Phillies.

Twenty-three college position players were selected among the top-10 picks in the last nine drafts, Bohm, who went to Wichita State, is the only one to start his career in low Class A. If you expand the player pool to the first 40 picks in each of those drafts, the outlook gets a little bit less dire.

Including Bohm, that group is 18 players deep and includes two All-Stars in Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger and Yankees slugger Aaron Judge. The rest of the group, however, is more misses than hits. Indians catcher Kevin Plawecki is the best of the rest. The full group includes Max Pentecost, Casey Gillaspie, DJ Stewart, Kyle Parker, Phillip Ervin, Victor Roache, Kyle Holder, Mike Kvasnicka, Bryce Brentz, Derek Fisher, Zach Cone, Anfernee Grier, Jake Burger and 2018 draftee Cadyn Grenier.

That there are physical similarities between Judge and Bohm should come as some comfort to Phillies fans. Both are hulking players (though few measure up to Judge) from colleges in mid-sized conferences who show both power and patience. Haniger also has gone on to have plenty of success, although in his care he had to completely re-work his swing in the minors.

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Baseball America Prospect Report -- April 15, 2019

Nate Pearson strikes out nine, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s average rises to .360, Dylan Cease still hasn't allowed a run and more.

WHERE THEY START, WHERE THEY FINISH
We looked at every position player drafted in the top 40 picks out of a four-year college from 2001-2014. Most (100 of 165) are sent to high Class A to begin their first full pro season. Here's a look at those who didn't start in high Class A.
Assigned ToPlayersMade Majors150+ MLB GamesAll-Star5+ Career WAR
AA+282825918
LoA2616834

To see just how rare Bohm’s low Class A assignment is, we then looked back through every draft since 2001 as well. And what we found is that he remained the only college position player taken in the top-five picks to be sent to low Class A to begin his first full pro season. Expanding the list to top-10 picks adds one more—outfielder Drew Stubbs (the No. 8 pick in 2008). Among the top 40 picks, there were another 13 college position players who were sent to low Class A. That group did include two players who had solid MLB careers—Todd Frazier and Chris Coghlan—and 10 others who did not, including Brett JacksonJohn McCurdyJohn MayberryAllan Dykstra and Brian Snyder.

To be sure, Bohm starting the year with Lakewood isn’t necessarily a reflection on his talent or what the Phillies think of him, it’s just worth pointing that players of his pedigree and draft status rarely move this slowly.

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