Depth at shortstop has been a source of concern for the Cubs for a couple of seasons now. While few dispute that Javier Báez is the best man for the position, he has spent some time on the Injured List, including a hairline fracture of his thumb that functionally ended his season in 2019. Addison Russell was able to back up Báez briefly but when he landed on the concussion protocol on September 9, Cubs fans let out a collective groan wondering exactly who would play shortstop for the last three weeks of the season.
In a move that surprised many, the Cubs opted to call up their 2018 first round draft pick Nico Hoerner. Hoerner’s minor league season had already ended when he received a call from Jason McLeod that he was being called up. Sahadev Sharma of the Athletic reported on his reaction, which I think tells you everything you need to know about Nico:
Hoerner’s season was already over. He was staying in shape and mentally preparing himself for another stint in the Arizona Fall League. Then, while sitting on his couch at home in Oakland, Calif., he got the call from McLeod.
“’Let’s do it, man,’” McLeod said Hoerner told him when he heard the news. “He was just ready. I’m sure he celebrated afterward. That’s just him. He was just like, ‘Let’s do this, I’m ready.’
“I don’t think he’s fazed at all being here. I really don’t. He’s excited to try and help us win.”
Nico profiles as more of a second baseman than a shortstop, but he more than delivered for Cubs fans in his first 20 days in the majors. He played a solid shortstop with only two errors at the more challenging position. He also slashed .282/.305/.436 with three home runs in 20 games. For the third day of Cubsmas I wanted to take a look at those home runs, which I’m sure are just the first three of many.
September 13 vs. the Pirates
This was a wild game in every sense of the word. I wrote about it (and baseball superstitions)_for Baseball Prospectus:
I finally made time to get my hair done on Friday the 13th. When I originally made the appointment the salon owner made a joke about the day. I laughed. I’m not really superstitious. Right about the time I was being very not superstitious about Friday the 13th, the Cubs promptly allowed four runs on a comedy of errors in the first inning.
I might have broken something if I wasn’t in public, but honestly I didn’t have time to even really think about that. Within 10 minutes of being down four they were up five and put a 17 spot on the Pirates in a must win game in September. It wasn’t much of a leap for me and most of Cubs Twitter to decide my hair stylist was lucky.
The last two of those first inning runs came on Nico’s first major-league home run. He took the first pitch he saw at Wrigley Field and deposited it in the center field shrubbery. The last guy I remember homering on the first pitch he saw was none other than my favorite: Willson Contreras. Let’s take another look at Nico’s first home run [VIDEO].
September 14 vs. the Pirates
We didn’t have to wait long for Nico’s second home run. The Cubs were in the middle of another drubbing of the Pirates the next day when Nico came up with two on. With a one-one count Clay Holmes threw an 83 mile per hour slider that didn’t break and Nico did not miss as he deposited that mistake into the Hornitos party deck area in left field to make it 13-1 [VIDEO].
September 21 vs. the Cardinals
Nico’s third career home run came a week later in another wild game against the Cardinals, albeit one that didn’t go the Cubs way. As you may remember this was the final Cubs game at Wrigley broadcast on WGN-TV. It’s also the only game of that series I elected to watch from my couch. It just felt right to see the Cubs final home game on WGN the way I’d watched so many others, on TV.
With the game tied at five in the sixth inning the Cardinals brought in Ryan Helsley. He threw a 98 MPH fastball over the heart of the plate and Nico crushed it to left field to give the Cubs the lead for the second time that game [VIDEO].
On the third day of Cubsmas my true love gave to me three Nico homers, 2 fWAR from Castellanos and a David Ross for manager.