Cubs

Nico Hoerner's plan for the 2020 season is actually surprisingly simple

Nico Hoerner's plan for the 2020 season is actually surprisingly simple

MESA, Ariz. – If the general consensus about change is it can be scary, or difficult, you wouldn’t know it from the Cubs’ clubhouse. The team almost certainly got off the Joe Maddon Freeway a few exits too late, but bringing on David Ross was like driving down the access road directly adjacent.

It’s easy to embrace change when the new manager still goes by a playful nickname he was given two years ago – or was your personal catcher and close friend. You just probably won’t catch younger players, like Nico Hoerner, calling him ‘Rossy’ quite yet. 

“It’s funny how different people in the locker room have said hi to him the first time seeing him,” Hoerner said on Thursday. “For some of them, they just sort of push him around and say whatever, and other people it’s like, ‘Oh, Mr. Ross, great to meet you.’” 

Though it’s technically Hoerner’s second big-league camp, the Cubs’ young infielder admitted this year already feels notably different. Spring Training is absolute hell for minor leaguers, and Hoerner conceded he doesn’t feel as much of an overwhelming pressure to prove himself immediately. It’s not hubris, either – if you don’t think Hoerner’s going to be on the active roster come Opening Day, consider that his locker at Sloan Park is in a group that includes Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, and Anthony Rizzo.

“I’m in good company over here,” he said. “Good brains to pick … I’m figuring it out, slowly.” 

He may still be figuring out how to cleverly dodge questions, but there was nothing slow about how he seemed to figure out life in the major leagues last season. In the 20 games Hoerner played with the big league club, he flashed more than enough moments to justify the rather sudden call-up in early September. And when that happened, he was just as surprised as you were. 

“I was surprised to be there,” he said, laughing. “Just in how it all happened. But I’m confident in what I can do. I didn’t expect one thing or another. I controlled what I could and good things followed. 

“I've said that a million times to people. [The sudden call-up] was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me. There wasn’t a buildup of expectation. It was just boom, here we go, let’s go play, and I played the first day. You go from there. I was thankful for how it happened.” 

His slash line – .282/.305/.436 – was impressive enough for a 22-year-old who had been playing college ball at Stanford only a year prior. The advanced metrics aren’t as kind to his performance at the plate, but again, he’s 22. He’s also never played a full season’s worth of games, at any level. The tail end of MLB’s season is notoriously rough on minor leaguers, who aren’t used to playing several dozen additional games.

For Hoerner, more than any specific adjustment, this spring is just about getting his body ready for that grind. Anything else he picks up along the way, whether from ‘Rossy’ or his witty group of lockerroom neighbors, is just gravy. 

“The best baseball I've ever played in my life is when I’m focusing on long term and development,” he said. “I think that’s when I’ve learned the most, had the most fun, and helped the team win the most too. I’m trying to maintain that – that might be hard at times this spring. But trying to do that the best I can.” 

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Before he was a Cub,, Kyle Schwarber was a high school singer, football player

Before he was a Cub,, Kyle Schwarber was a high school singer, football player

Kyle Schwarber will go down in Cubs lore for his dramatic return from a torn ACL and LCL in time for the 2016 World Series. Despite not facing big league pitching in six months, the catcher-turned-left fielder put on a hitting clinic that series.

Schwarber hit .412 in five games, which includes the rally-inducing single to leadoff the 10th inning of Game 7. That game, of course, was played in Cleveland, which is a perfect Segway for a few off-the-field facts about the Cubs slugger.

1. Schwarber was born in Middletown, Ohio and grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan. As a former catcher, his role model was Johnny Bench — the Reds Hall of Fame backstop.

2. Schwarber attended Middletown High School, where he was a linebacker on the football team. Here’s a legendary photo of him trying to tackle future Ohio State quarterback and NFL wide receiver, Braxton Miller.

3. Not only was he an athlete in high school, but Schwarber was also a member of his school’s show choir. You need this content in your life, and I’m happy to provide it to you.

There’s Schwarber, front and a bit off-center:

For good measure, the Cubs had Schwarber and other players reenact the performance back in 2016 — with future manager David Ross taking a playful shot at Schwarber:

Like I said, you need this content.

4. Schwarber has one brother and three sisters. His dad is a retired police chief, a big inspiration for the Schwarber’s Neighborhood Heroes campaign — which recognizes first responders and their sacrifices.

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The 16 most underrated players in Cubs franchise history

The 16 most underrated players in Cubs franchise history

Banks. Sandberg. Sosa. Rizzo.

In addition to being a potential “Cubs Mount Rushmore,” these players are synonymous with ones who fans remember — and likely cheered for — the most. Odds are you’ll find more Ryne Sandberg jerseys in the stands than, say, Terry Mulholland or Steve Trout.

But an astute fan of the 2016 club would mention that John Lackey nearly had as many strikeouts that season as Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta. Or that fan favorite Mark DeRosa led the 97-win 2008 team in runs scored (103). 

These are the glue guys. The grinders. The players that hold teams together.

So, with a nod toward the 2016 World Series champs, here is the list of the 16 most underrated Cubs of all-time:

The 16 most underrated players in Cubs franchise history 

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