While the Cubs battle to hold on to the National League's second Wild Card spot, they're having trouble keeping their shortstops healthy. As a result, Nico Hoerner will become the first player from the 2018 Draft to reach the big leagues.
All-Star Javier Baez sustained a hairline fracture of his left thumb on Sept. 1 and is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season. Addison Russell got hit in the head with a pitch yesterday, suffering a nasal bruise and will get examined for a possible concussion. To add to its depth at shortstop, Chicago called up Hoerner from Double-A Monday, and he had three hits and four RBIs in his big league debut in a 10-2 win in San Diego.
The top prospect in the system and No. 47 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, Hoerner is a better defender at shortstop than David Bote or Ben Zobrist, the Cubs' other two options at the moment. He's also one of the best pure hitters in the Minor Leagues and has developed rapidly since signing for $2,724,000 as the 24th overall pick in 2018.
Though Hoerner wasn't viewed as a consensus first-round talent at the time of the Draft, several scouts who watched him play in the Arizona Fall League last offseason expressed disbelief that he could have lasted 24 selections. One evaluator compared him to four-time All-Star Ian Kinsler.
Hoerner, 22, missed two months this season after getting hit by a pitch and winding up with a hairline fracture in his left wrist in late April. He hasn't hit for as much power since returning, which is typical in the immediate aftermath of a wrist injury, but he did bat .333 in August. Chicago had planned on sending him back to the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost at-bats until the Baez and Russell injuries necessitated his promotion.
Here's a breakdown of Hoerner on a tool-by-tool basis:
Hit: Hoerner excels at making consistent contact because he has exceptional hand-eye coordination, a compact right-handed swing and a mature approach. His hitting ability made the Cubs comfortable assigning him to Double-A to start his first full pro season. He's a career .297 hitter with nearly as many walks (31) as strikeouts (36) in 89 career games in the Minors, whiffing in just 10 percent of his plate appearances.
Power: He hit just three home runs in three years at Stanford, which is a major reason why Hoerner wasn't considered a consensus first-rounder. But he has deceptive power thanks to his strong hands and has demonstrated the ability to impact the ball with wood bats. Chicago has worked with him to drive more balls in the air and he has shown the aptitude to do so, which could result in 20 homers per season in his prime.
Run: Hoerner has solid speed and uses it well, though he's more opportunistic than prolific as a basestealer. He has enough quickness to play an average shortstop.
Arm: The accuracy of Hoerner's throws stand out more than his sheer arm strength, which earns average to solid grades. He can make most of the throws necessary at shortstop, though plays deep in the hole are going to be challenging.
Field: Most evaluators project Hoerner to eventually move from shortstop to second base. His instincts and reliability are more impressive than his range or arm, though he offers better defense at short than either Bote or Zobrist. He has the tools to be a solid defender at second base and also should be able to handle the outfield if needed.