Could Nico Hoerner follow in the footsteps of the some of the Cubs' top prospects in recent memory?
Hoerner has just 14 minor league games under his professional belt. And yet, the 21-year-old shortstop from Stanford seems to be on the fast track to the North Side.
Hoerner's debut minor league season ended prematurely due to a sprained ligament in his left elbow. Before the injury, though, the 24th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft hit a combined .327 with two home runs, a 1.021 OPS with the Arizona League Cubs, Low-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend.
While he missed majority of the 2018 minor league season, Hoerner seemingly hasn't missed a beat. After hitting .337/.362/.506 in 89 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League, Hoerner is 5-for-6 in spring training with a triple, a home run, three RBIs and four runs scored.
Yeah, that's pretty good. And while it's true that spring training inflates offensive statistics, Hoerner's potentially quick ascension to MLB makes sense on several levels.
For starters, there is some precedent to the Cubs promoting top draft picks fairly quickly under Cubs president Theo Epstein:
- Kris Bryant: 2013 first round pick, 2015 MLB debut
- Kyle Schwarber: 2014 first round pick, 2015 MLB debut
- Ian Happ: 2015 first round pick, 2017 MLB debut
Obviously, the aformentioned players came with a lot of pedigree as top-10 draft picks. However, like Hoerner, the Cubs drafted Bryant, Schwarber and Happ following their junior seasons of college.
Spending three seasons in college doesn't guarantee Hoerner making his MLB debut as quick as Bryant, Schwarber and Happ. The Cubs had needs positionally in 2015 and available at-bats; the stars aligned, in a sense.
However, such players are generally more MLB-ready offensively than players drafted out of high school.
In addition to his three years of college baseball experience, Hoerner plays a premium defensive position that could make him capable of moving all around the diamond.
This is not to say that the Cubs will move Hoerner off of shortstop permanently.
However, shortstops are more capable of moving around the diamond than other infielders. Also, while some infielders see time in the outfield (see Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist), outfielders tend to only play corner infield positions, if any at all.
So, if the Cubs feel Hoerner is ready for the big leagues sooner rather than later, they can find a way to get him playing time. This will especially be true if he forces the issue by hitting well.
Schwarber, for example, hit .375 in April (17 games) and .297 in May (28 games) with Double-A Tennessee in 2015. The Cubs promoted him to the big leagues in June for six games (he hit an impressive .364/.391/.591 slash line) before permanently promoting him on July 17.
One must also consider the Cubs' organizational depth at shortstop. Addison Russell is eligible to return from his 40-game suspension on May 1, but his long-term future with the Cubs is uncertain.
Hoerner presents the Cubs with depth at shortstop, both in the near future and in the long-run. MLB Pipeline projects him to make his big league debut in 2020.
However, when considering the multitude of circumstances at hand, it won't be a surprise if the debut comes sooner rather than later.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.