Monday night, Nico Hoerner had his MLB debut. By Tuesday morning, he had become the talk of the town. I haven’t followed many of the reactions on the media (overly played, or not), in part because nothing much that he did Monday night surprised me. He is who he was, and the assessments of him once he played last season in the Arizona Fall League have been shown to be a bit accurate, so far. Here are a few thoughts I had regarding his first game, and what led to it.
To start, injuries will happen. If you are surprised when athletes are injured, you might be new to these parts. Some injures are obvious. Others are less so. For instance, some people are railing against Kris Bryant for being unclutch, when its possible he’s been playing at about 80 percent, or so. Player health doesn’t have an indicator light, like your smart phone. “Down to 17 percent. I’d better plug it in for an hour.”
When people want a team to run out the same lineup every day, I laugh riotously inside. While baseball is a game for you, for the players, it’s their gig. They are best served getting days off on occasion. A team that doesn’t have a few players pushing for regulation time in the upper minors might not have earned the postseason success the fans might think they’re entitled to. Having players like Hoerner, Adbert Alzolay, and Robel Garcia pop up in a season really helps. More on this later.
Hoerner isn’t becoming a quick fan favorite just because of his three hits and four RBI in his debut game. He played smartly on defense, and advanced on a pitch that evaded the catcher for an early run. He’s aware of what’s needed to be successful. As to whether he’ll be able to craft his skills into an extended career is up for grabs, and why we watch. Some people are of the mindset that they only “really like” players who are “really good.” I like Hoerner, regardless, until he gives me a reason not to.
Hoerner shows why I prefer the Cubs leaning hitters early in the draft. When a team can, theoretically, get a college hitter to the MLB roster in less than 24 months is another indicator light that teams can locate useful college hitters with reasonable consistency. No, not every single time. Fangraphs assessed Hoerner at a $1.4 million dollar career value after two days of his MLB career. His signing bonus was $2.724 million. As long as dollars against limits is important in the multi-level equation (Why else would Dave Dombrowski have been fired?), getting quality from the June draft at virtually no cost is tough to match.
Touching briefly on college games, if you have a really good college team you follow, having a player like Hoerner on your roster half the time isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Hoerner was doing most of what he did on Monday in Kodak with the Tennessee Smokies at both edges of the Southern League season. Most of those things, he was doing when at school in Palo Alto. Being a Cubs fan is cool. Having a college side you enjoy, as well, is adding another ingredient to the porridge. A handful of college teams every year have talent that is as fun as Hoerner, or even more so. Consider picking a college baseball team to follow.
The Cubs much-maligned pipeline is sending players toward the top levels. It’s not a quick process. It’s isn’t the instant gratification thing that most people seek. Player development was important 80 years ago, 40 years ago, eight years ago, and will be as long as the affiliate system exists. A team that is unable to get low-cost talent at league average internally has a huge deficit to the one that produces. That’s not a “you see it streaming on your computer” thing.
As the minor league regular season rolled to a close, I had four players atop my Cubs prospect list. All were significantly different enough to have your preference of the “best of them” defining the ranker more than the ranked. Hoerner shows as a middle infielder that is more swing-first than take-first. Miguel Amaya smacks of a valid MLB starting catcher with an accent on defense and pop. Brennen Davis oozes potential center field or right field starter, with pop and the ability to draw walks. Brailyn Marquez throws 101 from the left side in Advanced-A Ball.
I’m totally good with the chiding that comes with tracking the minors and the draft. When the Cubs were miserable in the draft and develop stage, they rarely reached the playoffs. If they play well down the stretch, a few Cubs players will become the first ones to ever play five postseasons for the team. To continue that into six or seven, or to let Hoerner climb the team’s October leader boards, cost-controlled talent would be useful.
The rancor occurs when either side tries to misrepresent. Both veterans and kids are needed. When a Hoerner type comes up, veterans (that are healthy enough to play) are able to receive more days off. Age has a way of exacting a toll on even the best players, eventually, and a fatigued player may be more likely to get injured. Getting quality veterans to want to sign a team-friendly deal is often predicated on having a positive-looking future. Quality veterans can be the best teachers.
Monday was Hoerner’s first game for most of you. May it be the first of a few hundred, or even over a thousand. Young players will often provide a spark that many veterans can’t. Something is only a new sensation for so long, for players or fans. Among the best way to continue into the future is to have a steady stream of all sorts of players ready to come up. You can assess the league-wide veterans for me. I’ll burn my candle wax on the prospects, and hope a few hit. Like Hoerner did on Monday night.