Why Nico Hoerner is exactly what the Cubs were looking for

Why Nico Hoerner is exactly what the Cubs were looking for

It took roughly 20 seconds after he began speaking for the first mention of the word "winning." 

Nico Hoerner became the latest college hitter to go to the Cubs in the first round of the MLB Draft and in his introductory teleconference with the Chicago media, the Stanford shortstop didn't waste any team showing what he was about.

Theo Epstein's Cubs front office spends a lot of time and energy on the character of a player they draft and it's paid off well with Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ in the past (as far as the Draft goes, at least). 

Hoerner checked all the boxes for Epstein and Co.

"First and foremost, it's his ability on the baseball field," said Jason McLeod, Cubs senior VP of player development and amateur scouting. "He's a talented player that can really swing the bat, that's a high-contact bat. We think there's actually more power for him there in terms of extra-base hits and lifting the ball.

"But we really love what he can do at the plate. He's a multi-tool athlete with incredible makeup. When you go and watch him, it's really apparent — he's a leader on the field, he's a leader in the dugout, he's incredibly passionate, he's all about winning.

"He's exactly what we're looking to bring into the organization."

Hoerner was the star of a Stanford team that went 46-12 overall this season and finished atop the Pac 12 conference.

He spent most of the spring focusing on his team at Stanford instead of the Draft.

"Honestly with the Cubs, I really had no idea," Hoerner said. "I asked my advisors throughout the whole process to give me really limited information and just let me focus on the season. 

"I was lucky to be on a really successful team this year and I was focused on winning. The draft process was pretty smooth."

Hoerner only hit 3 homers in 164 career college games, but collected 42 doubles and 9 triples while slugging .406 overall.

After a rough start to his collegiate career in 2016 (.254 average, .609 OPS), Hoerner turned it on and hit .307 his sophomore year and then .349 his junior season.

In between seasons at Stanford, Hoerner — an Oakland native — played for the Madison, Wisc., team in the Northwoods League in 2016, where he got a taste of the Midwest life and caught a glimpse into the world of Cubs fans.

He also played in the Cape Cod League in 2017, an experience he credited with helping him take huge strides before his junior season in college.

As the Cubs prepared for the Draft, they were holding out hope Hoerner would still be available at pick No. 24. They fell in love with his "exceptional makeup" and unique "natural hitting ability."

The Cubs think more power will come eventually, as he continues to fill out his 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame.

"He's just so skilled at barreling the ball up around the zone," McLeod said. "He has strong hands. I know this year when I went to see him, I was actually surprised just the strength of his body. Because you read the bio and you might see 5-11ish or 6-feet and you kinda expect him to be more of a medium frame guy, but this is a guy that's very strong, has very strong hands, high contact and he hits balls really hard.

"We do think that will translate really well because of what he already does well — which is really elite hand-eye coordination and ability to get the barrel to the ball and hit it hard."

Hoerner also fits the Cubs' mold in recent years as a player who can play all over the diamond. He has no qualms about moving if asked, but for now, he and the Cubs are content with sticking at shortstop.

"I'm gonna play shortstop as long as that's OK with them," Hoerner said. "That's what I love to do; I think I can do it at a really high level. 

"But at the same time, I think I can play every position on the field if need be. Just want to win ballgames."

There's that "winning" concept again...

Competitive Balance Taxes are looming, but the Cubs are still willing to bend the budget

Competitive Balance Taxes are looming, but the Cubs are still willing to bend the budget

Tom Ricketts met with the media on Monday morning to give his usual spring State of the Cubs press conference, and the state of the Cubs is … sorta the same? The Cubs look almost identical to the 84-win, third place team of 2019, but Ricketts’ expectations are far above that. 

“I think we have the best team in our division,” the Cubs’ owner said. “I think we have a really dynamic, exciting new manager. I think the players are going to play very, very hard for David Ross. Barring some kind of crazy injuries, I think we should win our division and get back in the playoffs.”

Considering there’s not a whole lot of on-field news to discuss, much of the 20-minute press conference was focused on the team’s finances, their (lack of) headway towards a television deal with Comcast, and what to expect as teams ramp up for the oncoming round of CBA negotiations. Ricketts talked at length about the club’s perceived battles – or lack thereof, he claims – with baseball’s Competitive Balance Tax (CBT). 

“I think the CBT is a factor that every large market GM has to put into their calculus when they create their teams,” Ricketts said. “I don’t know how much fans know, but it’s not just a financial penalty. It’s a financial penalty that grows over time, for a number of years you’re above the threshold. And then it gets into a player penalty, which you have to be careful to avoid. So like I said, it’s a factor – I don’t think it’s a defining factor – but it’s definitely a factor that every team has to deal with, at least every large market team.” 

Ricketts mentioned that some of this offseason’s planned budget was fronted when the Cubs signed closer Craig Kimbrel to a three-year, $43 million deal towards the end of last summer. He was also adamant that payrolls don’t correlate directly to winning, which is certainly not unfair to claim but also not entirely accurate. He pointed to the Cubs’ baseball budget in 2019, which was, according to him, the highest in the league as to say that the team wasn’t exactly sitting on their hands. While the front office’s inactivity surprised many of the Cubs’ players, Ricketts shot down the idea that something needed to happen for the sake of something happening. 

“I’m not disappointed,” he said. “The fact is that we have a great team, we have guys that are proven winners and verteran players. We have the talent to win our division and go deep into the playoffs. So that’s a good starting place. In terms of big changes, it’s hard. You guys follow the game, it’s not like there’s a lot of player for player swaps anymore. Trades don’t happen like they used to.” 

And while many view the Red Sox-Dodgers player swap that took place literally last week as a concerning sign of baseball’s current economic market heading into the next round of CBA discussions, Ricketts chose not to comment on what he thinks the owners are going to try and bargain for. Instead, he left the door open for activity – even if it means swallowing the rather costly CBT pill. The Cubs were over the CBT last year, and are open to the notion of a second-straight violation if it means making the right move. Penalties for third-time offenders are particularly harsh, though, and Ricketts conceded that it’s that point when spending begins to give ownership pause. 

“Obviously paying large taxes on CBT is really inefficient and not a great use of team resources, so if there’s a way to put a great team on the field and not pay that, then they will,” he said. “But I leave it up to Theo and Jed. 

“Like I said, the CBT thresholds are a piece of the puzzle. They’re something that we’re always mindful of, but they won’t define the situation and they won’t determine the actual player moves.” 

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Yu Darvish thinks Houston Astros should be stripped of 2017 World Series title

USA Today

Yu Darvish thinks Houston Astros should be stripped of 2017 World Series title

The Astros' sign-stealing scandal is personal for a lot of players, though it probably hits a little differently for Yu Darvish. 

Darvish was a member of the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers team that Houston beat in the World Series. Darvish didn't have his best performance in the series and when asked about the scandal, the Cubs' pitcher didn't hold back:

It's a weird feeling. Like, in the Olympics, when a player cheats, you can't have a Gold medal, right? But they still have as World Series title. That makes me feel weird. That's it. And one more thing. With [Carlos] Correra talking about [Cody] Bellinger. I saw that yesterday. So they cheat, and I think right now that they don't have to talk. They shouldn't talk like that right now.

You can watch the video of Darvish's comments, from ESPN's Jesse Rogers, it right here.

The comments took on a life of their own, as Astros' soundbytes have been known to do over the last few weeks or so. Darvish was ready for the clapback, though, and delivered a final blow to some poor 'Stros fan who thought he could compete with Darvish on twitter dot com. 

Sign a lifetime contract, Yu. Never leave us.

Related: Bryant crushes Astros for cheating scandal: 'What a disgrace that was' 

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