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Hoerner 'brings a lot to the table' for Cubs

@MLBastian
July 21, 2020

CHICAGO -- Nico Hoerner spent the majority of baseball's three-month intermission living and training in Arizona. The Cubs rookie then decided to head home to California for a couple of weeks, hoping and waiting to hear news about the start of the season. That development broke late last month, which

CHICAGO -- Nico Hoerner spent the majority of baseball's three-month intermission living and training in Arizona. The Cubs rookie then decided to head home to California for a couple of weeks, hoping and waiting to hear news about the start of the season.

That development broke late last month, which created some flashbacks for Hoerner. Last year, the Cubs' top prospect was also at home in California when an injury to Javier Báez in September paved the way for an unexpected trip to the Majors. As the story goes, Hoerner was on his couch when that call came.

"I was kind of laughing with my dad about that," Hoerner said, "just like, 'Well, we've done this before.'"

In reality, when it comes to the 2020 season, no one has done this before.

Back in Spring Training, Hoerner was a candidate for the vacancy at second base, but there was still a case to be made for sending him to Triple-A Iowa for further development. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the sports world, led to the cancellation of the Minor League season and necessitated a 60-game MLB season.

Maybe Hoerner was going to win the job back in March, but the current circumstances positioned him and veteran Jason Kipnis as manager David Ross' top two choices for second. The manager will look at matchups, but Ross has emphasized that playing the hot hand and prioritizing defense will be key in the abbreviated campaign.

In a season where each win carries more weight than personal statistics, Kipnis and Hoerner are ready to embrace whatever happens in the next two months.

"He knows I'm a big fan of him," Kipnis said. "I've told him, 'Listen, man, if I'm not in the game and you are, then you take this position and you run with it.' One of us has to do the job of second base, because right now, people are looking at second base as kind of a weakness on this team, and it doesn't have to be that way. I know both of us are more than capable of stepping in and making it a strong suit."

Hoerner might be well-equipped to handle the unique slate ahead, too.

Last year, Hoerner went from entering an offseason to being thrust into the middle of a postseason chase for the final three weeks of September. Every game mattered, eliminating his chance to get caught up in being a rookie. Hoerner also is not far removed from playing at Stanford, and he joked that the 2020 season sure feels a lot like college ball.

"This three-week buildup is exactly what we do in college with intrasquads with stuff," Hoerner said. "It feels pretty familiar. And there's no one in the stands, just like college baseball."

Hoerner said he still feels very much like a rookie, especially with decorated veteran players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Báez and others walking around. That said, the 23-year-old infielder said he likes that feeling, because he has a wealth of knowledge from experienced players -- players who have reached baseball's mountaintop -- at his everyday disposal.

"I'm surrounded by a lot of guys that have been there and done it," Hoerner said. "I was called up last year, but I really haven't done anything at this level yet."

In his MLB debut on Sept. 9 last year, all Hoerner did was go 3-for-5 with a triple and four RBIs in a win over the Padres. On Sept. 13, all he did was launch a home run in his first career at-bat at Wrigley Field in a romp over the Pirates. When the '19 season ended, Hoerner had hit .282 with three homers, 17 RBIs and 13 runs scored in 20 games.

It was a performance that opened plenty of eyes within the organization and put Hoerner on the map as a realistic option for the 2020 campaign.

He will get most of his playing time at second, but he can serve as the backup at short and is even an option for center, if needed. Hoerner's bat-to-ball ability also fits well in a Cubs lineup that features a lot of swings and misses at times.

"He brings a lot to the table for us," Ross said.

Hoerner also put up those numbers last year with only 375 career plate appearances in the Minor Leagues before being called up. For perspective, Bryant had 773 Minor League plate appearances and Kyle Schwarber had 613 PAs on the farm before their respective calls to The Show.

And those players were not just sitting at home when the call came.

"This guy was on the couch last year and competed for us down the stretch," Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce said. "It's just incredible. So I'm not really surprised by anything he's probably going to do in this game."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.