MESA, Arizona — The Cubs defeated the Angels 11-4 at Sloan Park Saturday afternoon and though it was only a split-squad spring training game against what seemed like the entire Angels farm system, I want to talk to you about Nico Hoerner.
I wish I had video to show you of Hoerner, last year’s No. 1 Cubs pick. For lack of a better description, he just looks like a major-league player, much more so than any of the other minor leaguers who played in this game, and there were a lot of them. He made a couple of nice plays at shortstop, showing off good range and a strong arm, and he also homered, doubled, walked and reached base by being hit by a pitch.
Now, before you accuse me of getting a bit ahead of myself, I am well aware that Hoerner had just 60 plate appearances in the Cubs system last year before being hurt and 94 more in the Arizona Fall League, far fewer than most 21-year-olds need in pro ball before going to the major leagues. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch, though, to say that Hoerner doesn’t need too much more time in the minors before being big-league ready. The fortunate thing for him is that the Cubs don’t need him to be in the big leagues in 2019. He can get a full season’s worth of playing time in the minors this year and then, perhaps, be ready to compete for a spot on the 25-man roster for 2020. He turns 22 in May, and I don’t see any reason he should start this season lower than Double-A.
At 24th overall last June, the Cubs got themselves a keeper, I think. There have been some who have made comps between Nico and Ian Kinsler, at least as a hitter, and Kinsler has had a fine career. That would be Hoerner’s ceiling, I think, and if the Cubs get that... they’ve done very, very well.
With his play Saturday afternoon, Hoerner is 5-for-6 with two HBP, a walk, a double, a triple, a home run and eight straight times reached base in big-league spring games.
As for the rest of the Mesa game, Alec Mills was scratched from his start at the last minute due to a minor back issue and Duane Underwood Jr. took his place. Underwood threw one inning and allowed a solo homer to former Cubs farmhand Justin Bour, one of only a couple of Angels whose names I even recognized.
The Cubs put three across in the second. Jim Adduci drove in one with a single and Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist drew bases-loaded walks. Hoerner’s two-run homer in the third produced a 5-2 Cubs lead and after that, it was minor leaguers for the rest of the game, including the first big-league spring game appearance for prospect Aramis Ademan, who played the last two innings at shortstop and struck out in his only at-bat.
For the pitchers, Steve Cishek looked good in throwing a 1-2-3 inning with a pair of strikeouts, and though George Kontos allowed two runs, both would likely not have scored with better defense. A triple got past Johnny Field, a ball that Albert Almora Jr. likely catches, and an RBI double grounded just out of reach of Daniel Descalso at third base.
Attendance watch on a coolish (63 degrees) afternoon in Mesa: a sellout of 15,608 brings the season total to 117,160 for nine dates, or 13,018 per date.
The Cubs sent Cole Hamels to pitch in Scottsdale against the Giants instead of throwing in a home game, and it occurred to me when seeing the Angels lineup that they likely wanted him to throw to Giants major leaguers, a bigger challenge than the minor-league lineup the Angels brought to Mesa. Hamels rose to the occasion, throwing 3⅓ shutout innings, allowing three singles and a pair of walks, with three strikeouts. Six Cubs pitchers combined on a seven-hit, 8-0 blanking of the Giants.
Since I didn’t see any of that game, I can’t really tell you anything more about it beyond what I see in that boxscore link. Jared Young, a prospect who’s opened some eyes with his bat this spring, went 2-for-3 with a double. Here’s one of Hamels’ three K’s, with some reaction from the dugout:
As you can see in that video, Joe Maddon and all the regular coaches were in Scottsdale. Among others, David Ross coached first base in Mesa and Iowa manager Marty Pevey was the third-base coach against the Angels, nice rewards for those guys.
Sunday, the Cubs will travel to the stadium that’s been renamed “American Family Fields of Phoenix,” spring home of the Brewers. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Corbin Burnes for Milwaukee. A reminder that while most of you change clocks and go on Daylight Saving time overnight tonight, Arizona doesn’t “spring forward,” and so beginning Sunday most Cubs spring games will begin in the 3 p.m. CT hour. Sunday’s game is at 3:05 p.m. CT. Radio coverage Sunday is on 670 The Score and it will be televised in Chicago via WGN-TV.