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Arizona Fall League

Hoerner caps strong AFL season with 3-hit game

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

MESA, Ariz. -- Both Nico Hoerner and the Cubs were excited to see how he'd fare in his first taste of pro ball after they drafted him 24th overall in June. But his pro debut lasted just 14 games before he strained ligaments in his left elbow diving for a ball in July.

One of the purposes of the Arizona Fall League is to help prospects make up for lost at-bats and innings. Hoerner took full advantage of the opportunity, emerging as one of the best hitters in the developmental league despite his lack of pro experience. He concluded his season with a three-hit day on Thursday, stroking a pair of doubles and driving in three runs as his Mesa Solar Sox outlasted the Surprise Saguaros 11-10.

MESA, Ariz. -- Both Nico Hoerner and the Cubs were excited to see how he'd fare in his first taste of pro ball after they drafted him 24th overall in June. But his pro debut lasted just 14 games before he strained ligaments in his left elbow diving for a ball in July.

One of the purposes of the Arizona Fall League is to help prospects make up for lost at-bats and innings. Hoerner took full advantage of the opportunity, emerging as one of the best hitters in the developmental league despite his lack of pro experience. He concluded his season with a three-hit day on Thursday, stroking a pair of doubles and driving in three runs as his Mesa Solar Sox outlasted the Surprise Saguaros 11-10.

Gameday

Hoerner said he was thankful to the Cubs for giving him the opportunity to play in the AFL. The only other 2018 draftee in the league this fall was Mesa right-hander Calvin Coker, a 15th-round pick by the Athletics.

"They trusted me a lot," Hoerner said. "They knew I'd make the most of it, whether the results were great or not, I'd make the most of it development-wise. That was my goal going into it, and I think I did a good job of that."

After batting .327/.450/.571 with two homers and six steals in 14 games across three levels during his truncated pro debut, Hoerner hit .337/.362/.506 with a homer and a steal in 21 games for the Solar Sox. He tied for the Fall League lead with four triples, ranked second with 30 hits and placed third with 45 total bases.

Arizona Fall League batting leaders

During his time in Arizona, Hoerner stood out with his ability to handle the bat and use the entire field. The Stanford product also showed glimpses of sneaky power. Some scouts question whether his actions and arm fit better at shortstop, where he spent most of his time with Mesa, or at second base, but there are no worries about his ability to produce at the plate.

Hoerner said the Fall League helped him learn what he needed to improve going forward. Though he had a lot of success at the plate, he also drew just two walks versus 16 strikeouts in 94 plate appearances.

"I feel like I understand already what I do that works for me at this level, but also things I really need to work on and got exposed in some ways," Hoerner said. "So for me moving forward, it helps my offseason knowing what I need to work on a lot. Pitch selection and approach, not so much I need to revamp my swing or anything but just getting to know how pitchers work and focusing on my strengths."

Mesa's season finale was a wild affair in which four of its first five batters recorded extra-base hits, including a home run by third baseman Bobby Dalbec (Red Sox) off left-hander Shawn Morimondo (Blue Jays), as it surged to a 10-2 lead after four innings. But the Saguaros rallied with five runs in the eighth as first baseman Will Craig (Pirates) tied for the AFL home run crown with his sixth of the season, a three-run shot off Coker, and tied ithe game with a two-out, two-run single from third baseman Charles LeBlanc (Rangers) in the top of the ninth. Left fielder Nick Heath (Royals) got into scoring position with the tying run with his 13th steal of the fall, breaking a tie with Mesa's Daniel Woodrow for the AFL lead.

The Solar Sox responded with a walkoff win in the bottom half, with catcher Jake Rogers (Tigers) driving in his first run in 52 Fall League plate appearances to end it. Perhaps the best defensive catcher in the Minors, Rogers hit .167/.231/.271 for Mesa but came through with the game-winning single against Joe Barlow (Rangers).

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.