Hard-working Hoerner proving himself a model Cub

February 18th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- Pete Crow-Armstrong has only been in the Cubs' system for one full season, but the outfielder prospect already knows where to look for an example. As the big league team and coming wave of prospects look to form a collective identity, Crow-Armstrong points to .

"I think the best way to describe the Cubs in a player, it's him," Crow-Armstrong said earlier this spring. "That's what Cubbie baseball should look like."

That is high praise for a player like Hoerner, who is still just 25 years old and coming off his first truly complete season in the Majors. Behind the scenes, Hoerner has been lauded for his leadership skills and work ethic, making him one of the players who jumps to mind first as the Cubs look to construct their next core.

The problem, for now, is that Hoerner is currently only under contractual control through the 2025 season. It is no secret that the Cubs have approached his camp about a potential extension, and comments like those from an up-and-coming player like Crow-Armstrong only help the cause.

"It's awesome to hear that," Hoerner said. "I'm glad that I can have that impression just from being myself and going about baseball the way that I enjoy it. And I don't think it's anything too abnormal, other than just having passion for the game and trying to play alongside other people who are taking the work seriously.

"And I'm excited to hopefully share a locker room with players for multiple years on end. We've had so much turnover in the last couple of years that -- even though we've had nothing but good people come through here -- it is harder to build those relationships when people aren't around for very long. And same goes for staff.

"It takes time. It takes time to get to really know people, care for people. And the game is just so much more fun and exciting when -- obviously, you're always rooting for your teammates -- but when it's someone you've really shared experience with. That's when it's really special."

A first-round pick by the Cubs in the 2018 Draft, Hoerner broke into the big leagues late in the '19 season. He was able to play under manager Joe Maddon and alongside core stars Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber. Ian Happ has been a mentor to him over the past several years as well.

Hoerner saw how the previous core grew into a championship-caliber group after spending several seasons together. He learned from their experience, which also included the business side: contract talks and headline-grabbing exits via trades or other means.

All of those elements are mental data points for Hoerner as he listens to feedback from more veteran players, his representatives and others in his circle while navigating his future with the Cubs.

"Any of those decisions are ultimately mine," Hoerner said. "You take advice from the people you trust in your life and go from there."

Hoerner, who signed a one-year deal worth $2.525 million to avoid an arbitration hearing this offseason, declined comment on any specifics of contract negotiations. On Wednesday, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said he preferred not to carry any talks deep into Spring Training.

On his side, Hoerner agreed that there was no "hard deadline," but he wants to keep his focus on the field.

"When I'm playing baseball, I like that to be where my head's at," he said. "It's just more enjoyable that way, too. I want to have fun and be very present here. Obviously there are other factors of playing at this level that we're fortunate to have to deal with. We'll just continue to work things through."

Right now, Hoerner is concentrating on building a strong rapport with shortstop Dansby Swanson, who joined the Cubs on a seven-year, $177 million deal. That signing forced Hoerner -- whose 13 Outs Above Average at short in '22 were second only to Swanson (21) -- to shift to second base.

That willingness to move positions in the name of winning is another example of why a young player like Crow-Armstrong holds Hoerner in such high regard. Manager David Ross would not disagree.

"Nico's an impressive human," Ross said. "He wants to win. And his mentality, I've never had to worry. He's one of those easy ones. You don't have to worry about where his headspace is. He's all about winning and what's best for the group."