Nico Hoerner's first foray into pro ball hasn't gone exactly as planned. The Cubs shortstop didn't expect to see his debut end after 14 games and he didn't count on playing in the Arizona Fall League.Those two developments are related. The 24th overall pick in June and the lone hitter
Nico Hoerner's first foray into pro ball hasn't gone exactly as planned. The Cubs shortstop didn't expect to see his debut end after 14 games and he didn't count on playing in the Arizona Fall League.
Those two developments are related. The 24th overall pick in June and the lone hitter from the 2018 Draft in the Fall League, Hoerner joined the Mesa Solar Sox to make up for lost at-bats and defensive reps after straining ligaments in his left elbow while diving for a ball in mid-July.
Arizona Fall League overviews for all 30 teams
"When I entered the summer, it definitely wasn't where I pictured being right now but it's a great place to be," the Cubs No. 6 prospect said. "It's the best competition I'll ever have played, so it's definitely a place to develop and make the most of the offseason.
"It made sense to me, just to have a chance to really push my limits and see where I'm at right now. They were quick to move me through the first couple levels, so if it goes well, it goes well. If not, then I have a lot to work on going into the rest of the offseason, either way, so I think it's a good spot to be."
Hoerner was moving swiftly through the Cubs system when he got hurt. He spent three games in the Rookie-level Arizona League and a week at Class A Short Season Eugene before advancing to Class A South Bend. He finished his pro debut with a .327/.450/.571 line with two homers and six steals in 14 games.
Chicago fared well by spending first-round picks on college bats Kristopher Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ in 2013-15 and went back to that demographic with Hoerner, a Stanford product. Known for his outstanding hand-eye coordination and disciplined approach, he also has strong hands and has begun to unlock his deceptive power after homering just three times in 167 college games.
While scouts have little doubt that Hoerner will hit, there are more questions about his ultimate defensive home. Some evaluators think he can stick at shortstop, though others think his actions and his average arm will fit better at second base, where he played as a Cardinal freshman. He's also quick and athletic enough to handle the outfield.
Hoerner said he isn't worried about where he ends up and knows the Cubs value versatility.
"I've only played shortstop so far in my brief stints, but if you look at the Cubs' big league roster, you'd be crazy to think you'd probably only play one position your whole time," he said. "You see Kris Bryant all over the place playing, so whatever is need be, I'll do it. I can play outfield, play second, whatever ... hit, got to do that.
"Playing second base, if I end up doing that, you got to have an arm to play there. I think a lot of what I've learned at shortstop is going to translate to wherever I'm at on the diamond, so I'm going to do that for as long as I can. Wherever it takes me, it takes me."
Cubs hitters in the Fall League
Trent Giambrone, 2B/SS -- Giambrone's ability to make hard contact, sneaky power and grinder makeup remind the Cubs of David Bote. A 25th-rounder from Delta State (Miss.) in 2016, he batted .251/.333/.440 with 17 homers and 26 steals in Double-A this year.
P.J. Higgins, C/3B -- Primarily a second and third baseman at Old Dominion, Higgins became a full-time catcher a year after turning pro as a 12th-rounder in 2015. Athletic behind the plate and possessing some of the best plate discipline in the system, he hit .271/.353/.366 between Class A Advanced and Double-A.
Jhonny Pereda, C -- Signed out of Venezuela in 2013, Pereda stands out most with a strong arm but has a chance to contribute both offensively and defensively. He batted .272/.347/.363 with eight homers in Class A Advanced and threw out 38 percent of the basestealers who tested him.
D.J. Wilson, OF -- Wilson has some of the best speed and all-around athleticism among Cubs farmhands but has had difficulty staying healthy and producing consistently at the plate. Signed for a well over-slot $1.3 million as a 2015 fourth-rounder from an Ohio high school, he hit .219/.315/.287 with 10 steals in 64 games in Class A Advanced.
Cubs pitchers in the Fall League
Bailey Clark, RHP -- Clark can't always keep his delivery in sync, but when he does he can unleash mid-90s fastballs with movement and overpowering sliders. A 2016 fifth-rounder from Duke, he posted a 2.45 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings between three lower-level stops this season.
Erick Leal, RHP -- Leal compiled outstanding numbers in Class A Advanced, with a 1.41 ERA, .156 opponent average and 61 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings. His best pitch is a tumbling changeup, which he sets up with a low-90s sinker.
Manuel Rondon, LHP -- A Venezuelan originally signed by the Angels in 2012, Rondon came to Cubs in a July 2015 trade for Rafael Lopez. Working with a 92-96 mph fastball and solid curveball, he compiled a 2.65 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 51 innings between two Class A assignments.
Justin Steele, LHP -- Signed for an above-slot $1 million as a Mississippi prepster taken in 2014's fifth round, Steele was just starting to blossom when he blew out his elbow in August 2017. He returned 11 months later after Tommy John surgery, running his fastball up to 97 mph and missing bats with his curveball while logging a 2.31 ERA, .176 opponent average and 53 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings between three clubs.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.