As spring training approached, the Cubs wouldn’t say whether Nico Hoerner will be on the Opening Day roster, much less anoint him leadoff hitter or everyday second baseman.
But Hoerner—the first player from the 2018 draft to reach the big leagues—has already shown the wide range of skills that will make him a factor in the team’s 2020 plans.
The 23-year-old Hoerner, drafted 24th overall out of Stanford, made a strong impression last September when a series of injuries forced him to take over for all-star shortstop Javier Baez. Hoerner skipped Triple-A Iowa and jumped into a playoff race, hitting .282 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in his first 20 games.
“He knew that the league didn’t know him,” said Matt Dorey, the scouting director who drafted Hoerner and now is the organization’s senior director of player development. “He wanted to try to get off his ‘A’ swing as soon as he could early in an at-bat” to avoid hitting with two strikes.
“A big part of his development plan moving forward will be his—I don’t want to say ‘plate discipline’—but just making better decisions and having the ability and the comfort to grind at-bats and hit with two strikes.”
The Cubs believe Hoerner has the contact skills to help diversify their lineup, and the athleticism to play up the middle, an area where they will need someone to step forward this year. While Hoerner likely profiles as a second baseman, the Cubs don’t have a definitive answer in center field, either.
“On paper, he definitely runs enough (to play center),” Dorey said. “His baseball instincts are off the charts. We toyed around with it last year (which he spent at Double-A Tennessee), and all the feedback and reports were really positive . . .
“It’s also repetition and having the ability to play there on back-to-back days and learning swings and tendencies and how the ball comes off (the bat). Those are all things that take a lot of time to develop. I think we’ll expose him to some of that again moving forward just to increase his versatility.”
— The Cubs believe lefthander Brailyn Marquez could begin the season with Double-A Tennessee. The Cubs could also elect to extend Marquez’s time in Arizona to give him more exposure to the organization’s cutting-edge pitch lab. Dorey said: “I think it would be foolish to put any cap on what he can do this year.”
— The Cubs took right-right first baseman Jerrick Suiter in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft with the idea of testing him out as a two-way player. Suiter put up an underwhelming .556 OPS across 121 games with the Pirates’ Double-A Altoona affiliate last year, but the Cubs saw enough in two mop-up appearances to be intrigued by his potential as a pitcher.
Patrick Mooney is a senior writer for The Athletic Chicago.