DENVER – Cubs infielder Nico Hoerner texted his old Pac-12 foe after learning they were becoming teammates.
When the Cubs traded closer Craig Kimbrel to the White Sox at last week’s deadline, they reunited Hoerner and second baseman Nick Madrigal. Reliever Codi Heuer and Madrigal made up the Cubs’ return from the Sox.
“Obviously wish we were both healthy and playing up the middle together right now,” Hoerner said of Madrigal. “But just a great competitor.”
This weekend’s crosstown series will be missing both Madrigal, who sustained a season-ending hamstring tear two months ago, and Hoerner, who is on the 10-day IL with a right oblique strain.
Hoerner went through an agility workout and played catch Thursday, before the Cubs’ series finale against the Rockies. Cubs manager David Ross said dry swings could be part of Hoerner’s progression Thursday.
“First time doing baseball stuff today,” Hoerner said, “so, it was nice to get back on the field a little bit.”
Hoerner’s timeline to return remains uncertain, but he’s expected to play again this season.
When Hoerner and Madrigal eventually do play together, Hoerner’s versatility makes him the more likely candidate to move from second base. He could play shortstop or, if the Cubs sign a shortstop in the offseason, center field.
The pair of Northern California natives last played together as teenagers with USA Baseball. But they know each other best from bouts between Stanford (Hoerner) and Oregon State (Madrigal). They were named to the same All-Pac-12 first teams their sophomore and junior years. Madrigal was also the 2017 Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
They both went to Chicago teams in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft, Madrigal to the White Sox at No. 4 overall and Hoerner to the Cubs at No. 24.
“He just understands the ins and outs of baseball so well,” Hoerner said. “He’s kind of always been like a captain on the field, just the way he goes around and talks to people. That's an infectious thing to have. Especially when you're talking about creating culture with a different group of people, that's kind of person you want around for sure.”
That’s exactly what the Cubs are talking about doing, after trading core stars Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez and Kris Bryant at the deadline.
The Cubs have also been cognizant of their lack of contact hitting in recent late-season offensive failings. Now, Madrigal and Hoerner are part of a contact-hitting foundation that the Cubs will have to add power hitting to moving forward.
“I’m a contact hitter,” Hoerner said, putting air quotes around the last two words, “but if you actually dive into it, he's the best, right? There's no one that puts the bat on the ball as well as him.”
Madrigal is relatively unproven in the major leagues. But between last season and the beginning of this year, Madrigal was making contact on 95.3 percent of pitches in the zone, according to Statcast. Those numbers establish him as an elite pure contact hitter.
“Someone I have a ton of respect for,” Hoerner said of Madrigal, “and excited to, honestly, just spend more time with him.”