Stanford showdown: Nico Hoerner, Kris Bubic share 'fun moment' on biggest stage

Stanford showdown: Nico Hoerner, Kris Bubic share 'fun moment' on biggest stage

Nico Hoerner had done the math even before Kris Bubic had made his MLB debut.

“His second start would be against us,” Hoerner said of the Royals pitcher last week.

On Wednesday, Hoerner and Bubic, former Stanford teammates, reunited at Kauffman Stadium. The Cubs’ 6-1 win over the Royals marked the first time they faced each other in the big leagues.

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“One of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had,” Hoerner said. “Just so happy for him in that the Royals are really giving him a chance.”

The parallels in Hoerner and Bubic’s careers began the summer before their freshman year of college, when Hoerner said they played on the same team, and continue beyond their three years at Stanford. By 2018, their final season of college ball, Hoerner and Bubic were clear leaders among the Cardinal position players and pitchers, respectively.

“You could coach 25 years,” said Stanford director of baseball David Esquer said in a phone interview, “and never get two guys to lead the rest of the team like that without pushing them yourself. Both those guys are just so self-motivated.”

Esquer, a former Cardinal player and assistant coach, returned to Stanford ahead of the 2018 season as the head coach. He was quickly struck by Hoerner and Bubic's work ethic.

Hoerner embraced the hardest drills Esquer threw at them and would rope his teammates into taking extra ground balls. Bubic would finish up in the weight room and then add a 30-minute bullpen session to his workload.

“I call them program changers,” Esquer said, “because when your best players are your hardest workers, they change the whole culture of everyone around them.”

That year, Stanford won its first Pac-12 title since 2004. A week later, the team gathered in the clubhouse to watch the MLB Draft together.

The Cubs selected Hoerner No. 24 overall, and Bubic went to the Royals 16 picks later, in the supplemental first round.

“The roar that came out of that room when both those names were called was pretty exciting,” Esquer said.

Once they were in the minor leagues, both Hoerner and Bubic skipped steps to get to the show. Last season, Hoerner became the first player in the 2018 draft class to reach the majors. The Cubs gave him the call after injuries to middle infielders Javier Báez and Addison Russell. The highest level Hoerner had played up to that point was Double-A. He ended up playing 20 games for the Cubs in September.

Then this season, the Royals brought in Bubic for his major league debut, straight out of Single-A ball.

“That was pretty amazing when I got that FaceTime from him,” Hoerner said.

Cubs manager David Ross made sure Hoerner got the opportunity to face his former teammate on Wednesday. Ross started Hoerner in center field, in what he called a “little bit outside of the box feel.” Hoerner usually plays second base for the Cubs, but Ross also wanted to fit David Bote in the lineup.

“He's got a close relationship with guy on the mound,” Ross said of Hoerner before the game. “Sometimes that takes that competitive edge up a little bit. He's been having some really good at bats for us.”

Hoerner finally got his chance to face Bubic in the third inning. He gave Bubic a nod and stepped into the box. Hoerner fouled off the first pitch the Royals rookie threw him, a fastball down the middle. Bubic grinned as received a new ball.

Hoerner would go on to fly out that at-bat. Then, in the sixth inning he smoked a ground ball to the left side. But Royals third baseman Maikel Franco fielded it cleanly and threw him out.

“To be honest, I'm just glad I didn't walk him, and I challenged him,” Bubic said. “… It was definitely a fun moment to share on a stage like that."


Cubs first round pick Nico Hoerner makes unexpected visit to Wrigley Field


Cubs first round pick Nico Hoerner makes unexpected visit to Wrigley Field

There is nothing quite like visiting Wrigley Field for the first time, and for Cubs 2018 first round draft pick Nico Hoerner, his first visit to his future home park was special despite the circumstances being less than ideal. 

The 21-year-old shortstop drafted out of Stanford will miss the rest of the season due to a left elbow injury, which was examined by Cubs team doctors Thursday morning. It was concluded Hoerner suffered an injury to a ligament in his left elbow, but would not require surgery. 

But after finding out his season was likely done, he figured he'd at least stick around for the Thursday night Cubs game against the Cardinals. 

"I had no idea this was going to happen today," Said Hoerner. "I flew in from the Quad Cities this morning, saw the doctor and said [to the Cubs] 'Hey can I come to the field?" 

Hoerner was able to spend time with the Cubs during batting practice this afternoon, mentioning the conversations he had with the players, in particular, Anthony Rizzo who made a lasting mark on the young Cub prospect. 

"Rizzo pulled me over and introduced me to the group. He actually clumped everyone into guys who were drafted in the first round and guys who weren't." 

Hoerner also got the chance to speak with Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis, who seemed to have struck a chord with the shortstop. Hoerner said the conversation was 'refreshing' and focused less about what he needed to do with his swing and more about competing with the pitcher. 

As for the future for Hoerner, he'll start rehabbing in Arizona and focus on getting right for the start of next season. It wasn't clear if the Cubs planned on trying to get their top pick back on the field in 2018, but Hoerner looked impressive during his short time in the Cubs minor leagues. 

Slashing 327/.450/.571 in 60 professional at-bats, Hoerner was showing he belonged in this league, having just recently being promoted to the Cubs Low-A South Bend Cubs.

But he only managed four games before injuring his left elbow making a diving stop to his left. But Hoerner seemed in good spirits, showing a resiliency that exemplifies his future ballclub. 

"It's always a work in progress. Just like everybody, I'm working to get better." 


Bears sign standout WR Tanner Gentry, 13 undrafted free agents

Bears sign standout WR Tanner Gentry, 13 undrafted free agents

The Bears have found success in the undrafted free agent market with the likes of wide receiver Cameron Meredith, linebacker Christian Jones and safety Harold Jones-Quartey among others during GM Ryan Pace's tenure with the club. 

Pace and the Bears hope to continue that trend and uncover some hidden gems in this year's crop of undrafted free agents.

Ahead of rookie minicamp this weekend, the Bears announced on Thursday they have signed 13 undrafted free agents.

Here's a look at some of the notable UDFA's the Bears signed:

Tanner Gentry (WR), Wyoming: The 6-foot-2 wideout ran a 4.40-yard dash at his Pro Day and had 72 catches for 1,326 yards with 14 touchdowns for the Cowboys last season. Gentry also led the country in deep targets (49) last season.

Dieugot Joseph (OT), Florida International: After a switch from defensive end to the offensive line, Joseph became a stalwart at left tackle for the Panthers. Joseph was named honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2016.

Andy Phillips (K), Utah: A former member of the United States National Ski Team, Phillips walked on to the Utah football team in 2012. As the Utes starting kicker from 2013-16, Phillips converted 84 percent of field goals and missed just one extra point.

Freddie Stevenson (FB), Florida State: For three seasons Stevenson served as the lead blocker for All-American running back Dalvin Cook. A former four-star recruit as a linebacker, Stevenson had 292 total yards and seven touchdowns with the Seminoles.

Kermit Whitfield (WR), Florida State: One of the most explosive athletes in the country, Whitfield accumulated 2,386 yards as a kick returner at Florida State. Whitfield broke the ACC record for yards per return (36.4) during his freshman season.

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Jhajuan Seales (WR), Oklahoma State: Seales has the ability to climb the ladder and make the contested catches with a 41.5-inch vertical leap. After subpar sophomore and junior seasons, Seales rebounded as a senior with 37 receptions for 615 yards and four touchdowns.

Franko House (TE), Ball State: House was a standout basketball player for the Cardinals. House will use his 6-foot-6, 247-pound frame to make the transition to the gridiron after not playing the sport since his senior year of high school.

Joel Bouagnon (RB), Northern Illinois: The ex-Huskies running back couldn't quite replicate his junior year numbers, but still posted a respectable 4.9 yards per carry with nine total touchdowns in 2016.

Rashaad Coward (DL), Old Dominion: Coward was a second-team All Conference USA selection last season, finishing with 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Coward fits the Bears 3-4 base defense as somebody who could rotate either inside or outside on the defensive line.

Mitchell Kirsch (OL), James Madison: Kirsch was the starter at right tackle for the Dukes since 2014, and was named an FCS All-American last year.

Hendrick Ekpe (LB), Minnesota: Ekpe started 11 games for the Gophers and notched 28 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. Ekpe played defensive end at Minnesota, but with his size (6-foot3, 245 pounds) he'll play outside linebacker for the Bears.

Isaiah Irving (LB), San Jose State: The 6-foot-3, 255 pound Irving led San Jose State with seven sacks as a senior.

Alex Searce (LB), Coastal Carolina: Searce was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan National Defensive Player of the Year Award. He had eight sacks for the Chanticleers in 2016.

Below are some standout players who have been invited to rookie minicamp:

Denard Robinson (RB): The artist formerly known as "Shoelace" from his days as a quarterback at Michigan is one several veterans that will try to impress the Bears' brass at rookie minicamp this weekend. Robinson was used as an "offensive weapon" during his four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2013-2016) and accumulated 1,058 rushing yards, 310 receiving yards and five total touchdowns.

Tyler Gaffney (RB): The former Stanford star will be at rookie minicamp for the Bears after he was released by the New England Patriots in March. Gaffney, originally a sixth-round selection by the Patriots in 2014, spent the majority of the last three seasons on injured reserve. During his season year at Stanford, Gaffney started 14 games and had 1,709 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.

Titus Davis (WR): Davis, a standout wide receiver at Wheaton South High School, is the older brother of Tennessee Titans' 2017 first-round selection Corey Davis. Titus Davis played at Central Michigan from 2011-2014 and registered 204 receptions for 3,700 yards and 37 touchdowns. 

D.J. Johnson (TE), Kansas State: Johnson joins House as one of two college basketball players the Bears will have in rookie minicamp. Johnson averaged 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game with the Wildcats in 2016-17 and helped the team to an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Johnson was an All-Conference defensive end and tight end at Parkway North High School in St. Louis.

Mark Spelman (OL), Illinois State: Spelman was one of the key members of the Redbirds offensive line last season and garnered third-team All-American honors.

D'Nerius Antoine (S), Southern Mississippi: A two-year starter for the Golden Eagles, Antoine had 189 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, 2 interceptions and 10 passes defended. Antoine also has experience as a returner.

DeSean Smith (TE), LSU: Smith wasn't often utlized in the Tigers passing game, ending his collegiate career with 19 receptions for 346 yards and one touchdown.

Lance Lenoir (WR), Western Illinois: Lenoir, a high school teammate of 2016 Minnesota Vikings first-round pick Laquon Treadwell at Crete Monee, finished his Leathernecks career as the school's all-time leader in receptions (273), yards (3,796) and touchdowns (28).