Why Cubs prospect Nico Hoerner might be on the fast track to the big leagues

Why Cubs prospect Nico Hoerner might be on the fast track to the big leagues

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.

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Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Why Cubs-Cards COVID-19 postponement raises heat on MLB, ethics questions

Millions of Americans have lost jobs or taken pay cuts because of the economic impact of a coronavirus pandemic that in this country shows no signs of going away anytime soon, including countless members of the sports media.

So despite some of the more laughably ignorant opinions from the dimmer corners of social media, exactly nobody in the media wants any sport to shut down again.

That said, what the hell are we doing playing games outside of a bubble during the deadliest pandemic in this country in more than 100 years?

With Friday's news that another Cardinals staff member and two more players tested positive in the past two days for COVID-19, the Cubs-Cards weekend series was postponed as officials scrambled to test and retest Cardinals personnel and try to get their season restarted.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since the intake process began in June, have done everything right, from management to the last player on the roster, to keep their team healthy and playing.

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But the operative, most overlooked, word in all of this has always been “playing.”

And the longer MLB pushes through outbreaks, and measures the season’s viability in counting cases instead of the risk of a catastrophic outcome for even one player, the deeper its ethical dilemma in this viral cesspool.

“Ethically, I have no problem saying we’re going to keep doing this,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said over the weekend about asking players to continue working as the league experienced outbreaks involving the Marlins and Cardinals.

“That said, we have to do it the right way,” Hoyer said, citing the extra lengths the Cubs have taken to keep players and staff safe.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

But even he and other team executives understand the limits of all the best-made plans.

“The infection is throughout the country. That’s the reality,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If you’re traveling around, there’s a real risk. Protocols are not perfect. No set of protocols are perfect. They’re designed to minimize the risk as best you possibly can.”

And while the odds for surviving the virus favor young, athletic people such as baseball players, the nearly 160,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 in the last five months include otherwise healthy toddlers, teens and young adults.

Add that to the best-known characteristic of this virus — its wildfire-like ability to spread within a group — and baseball’s attempt to stage a two-month season involving travel in and out of 30 locales starts to look like Russian roulette.

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez, 27, contracted COVID-19 last month and as a result developed myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart — that might shut him down for the season even after multiple tests say he’s clear of the virus.

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, a fit, 39-year-old, recent major-league athlete, had a monthlong case so severe he went to the emergency room at one point for treatment before the viral pneumonia and high fever began to improve.

The vast majority of players insist they want to play, including Rodríguez, even after his heart diagnosis. More than 20 others have opted out because of the risk, including All-Stars Buster Posey, David Price and — in the past week — Lorenzo Cain and Yoenis Céspedes.

Obviously the owners want to play, with more than $1 billion in recouped revenues at stake in a season of deep financial losses.

“Everyone that I know outside of baseball who’s become positive, who’s gotten COVID-19 at some point, did everything right — washed their hands, wore masks, socially distanced — and they still became positive,” Epstein said. “They don’t know where. It could have been the grocery store. It could have been walking down the street.

“And as far as I know that’s the case inside baseball, too,” he added. “This is everywhere in the country and unfortunately going the wrong direction nationwide. It’s a fraught environment out there that we’re operating in, and we’re going to need to do our absolute best and also be fortunate.”


Cubs-Cardinals series postponed after Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak worsens

Cubs-Cardinals series postponed after Cardinals' COVID-19 outbreak worsens

The COVID-19 pandemic finally caught up to the Cubs, who had their weekend series against the Cardinals postponed Friday after the Cardinals' coronavirus outbreak worsened by three positive tests before the teams were scheduled to open a three-game series in St. Louis on Friday night.

The Cardinals, who haven't played since last week because of an outbreak that now includes at least 16 players and staff, scrambled to test and retest personnel Friday as Major League Baseball wiped another series off their schedule.

Cardinals president John Mozeliak said Friday the latest players to test positive are outfielder Austin Dean and pitcher Ryan Helsley. The club announced Tuesday catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong recently tested positive.

The Cubs, who have not had a player test positive since intake testing began more than a month ago, had not lost a game on their schedule because of coronavirus issues.

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The Cubs (10-3) were scheduled to fly home from St. Louis Friday night and are not scheduled to play again until Tuesday in Cleveland. This weekend's series has not been rescheduled yet.

“Based on the information MLB has shared with us, postponing this series is a necessary step to protect the health and safety of the Cardinals and the Cubs,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said in a statement. “Therefore, it is absolutely the right thing to do.

“While it’s obviously less than ideal, this is 2020, and we will embrace whatever steps are necessary to promote player and staff wellbeing and increase our chances of completing this season in safe fashion,” he added. “We will be ready to go on Tuesday in Cleveland. In the meantime, we wish the Cardinals personnel involved a quick and complete recovery.”