EDITOR’S NOTE: Though the big-league Cubs season has ended, there’s still Cubs-related baseball this year. Eight Cubs prospects will be playing for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. AFL games begin Tuesday, and Tim will be presenting profiles of all the Cubs players on the Solar Sox before game action begins.
As the 2018 draft process wore to the first day, the names I had been interested in climbed the board precipitously. I had been told it was a great year for the high school players. However, the college names kept outperforming the high school players on draft boards. The college players I had been tracking were the ones being drafted, and Nico Hoerner was the Cubs’ No. 1 selection. After a truncated 2018 season, Hoerner will get a crash course in the Arizona Fall League with the Mesa Solar Sox.
Hoerner played for Stanford. I dropped in on a couple Stanford games early the 2018 season. However, I was more interested in their pitchers. By the time the conference season rolled around, PAC-12 Friday night games were in opposition with my work schedule. Work won. I knew very little about Hoerner, except the snippets from Twitter. (The real draft crucible is when hitters face the opposing best pitcher. This happens on Friday night, usually.)
To be useful regarding Hoerner, I’d have been best-served actively (listening to/watching) a few Stanford Cardinal games later in the season. This often works best for me with announcers who actually know the players. Then, I get vignettes. Side stories explain if the player would fit in with the Cubs. Tales about how he has a 55 Hit Tool (or whatever) leaves me cold.
Hoerner took a while to sign. As such, he scuffled in his short time in the Arizona Rookie League. He was better in Eugene, and better still in South Bend. However, his stint in the Midwest League was cut short by an injury. What exactly the injury was, or how long it was going to keep him out of action, nobody outside the loop knows. I had heard “needs Tommy John surgery” mentioned. (I’ve heard the same with South Bend outfielder Jimmy Herron. I don’t get sent medical reports.)
With Hoerner listed as a Solar Sox member come October, he certainly sounds ready to go. Or, he will be. Much to the chagrin of the fans in northern Indiana, they saw very little of Hoerner. The Fall League will provide him a stiffer challenge, and he’ll be healthy for it, presumably.
I have Hoerner as my second-best Cubs prospect, such to the extent that I still do lists. I’m becoming less of a list guy, as lists can lead to dismissiveness. (For instance, “He’s only the 24th rated guy, so he must suck.”) Hoerner will play in MLB. He should play well there, and the Cubs don’t have many guys I can say both about with confidence. He may even get the odd “rush treatment,” if it looks like the Cubs need some depth up the middle. Which is more likely now than “before”.
With a month in the Fall League, Hoerner will position himself for a bump in the Cubs landscape. If he represents well with the Solar Sox, he might entirely dodge the Carolina League. The AZ Fall League is considered roughly equivalent to Double-A Ball. The Tennessee Smokies shortstop for 2019 is still to-be-determined. While I have no problems with slow-playing talent, if Hoerner is ready for the Southern League, he might as well be assigned there.
You might not care at all about the Fall League. After all, it isn’t the Chicago Cubs. However, Hoerner is the most important minor league offseason follow in the pipeline. His numbers won’t be that essential. Him being able to play, will be. If Hoerner can play in 18 or 20 games (with long rosters, lineups tend to be Maddon-esque), he should be good to go for 2019.
I’m amused by Cubs prospect lists that plant Hoerner at (for instance) sixth among Cubs prospects. Hoerner will be in Wrigley before he is Rule 5-eligible. When the time is right, Hoerner will upgrade the talent, versatility, and financial structure of the organization. Which is why I can’t put him lower than the second spot.
Who will he be like? What will be his strengths? Can he be an MLB starter? Those are questions for another day. Putting Hoerner in the Fall League is a mildly aggressive placement. He should be up to it, and if he isn’t, it ought to serve as a learning experience.
Hoerner is the kind of player the Cubs draft. He’s versatile. He draws walks. His power will develop. He’s a smart baserunner. In short, he doesn’t leave too much “loose change” on the field. Bobble the ball? He reaches. Throw to the wrong base? He moves up. Cement mixer breaking ball? Off the wall. Along with making most of the plays he should, and a few he shouldn’t be able to accomplish, he checks most of the boxes.
If you want to know what type of a talent Hoerner is, track his development into November. And into 2019. The Cubs leaned middle infield in June, and the only things that should stop Hoerner from advancing are his health and the abilities of the opposition.