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2023 Cubs player profiles: Nico Hoerner, the face at second base

The first in a series of capsule biographies. Nico Hoerner leads off. He doesn’t think winning happens by accident and is busy preparing for victory.

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Kansas City Royals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

We’ll start this series with the lead-off man and end it with the 27th, 28th, 29th, and 30th men.

25-year-old Oakland, California native Nicholas Mackie Hoerner, at present, is seen as the face of the Chicago Cubs, having been identified as an example by such players as phenom Pete Crow-Armstrong, prior to the arrival of Dansby Swanson as a free agent. Teammates have identified Hoerner as one of the leaders of the squad, and the young man just received a life-changing contract extension (three years, $35 million) from the team.

In tandem with the aforementioned Swanson, for whom Hoerner was moved back to second base from his spot at shortstop, the Cubs’ middle infield should be set both defensively and offensively for a few years.

Hoerner is a Gold Glove quality second baseman who makes the routine play routinely and the spectacular play regularly. He is a tough batter who rarely strikes out and can take the occasional ball deep — something he’ll get better at as he gets older and stronger and learns when to turn on the ball.

For now, he’s a leadoff hitter. The Cubs hope he can learn to take more walks and boost his on-base presence. In 2022, his first full year, Hoerner boasted a .327 OBP, which is about .023 too low to be considered effective. However, he struck out 51 times in 481 at-bats and overall logged 4.4 WAR for a bad Cubs team, stealing 20 bases and swatting 10 home runs over the course of the season.

His numbers are expected to increase. It wouldn’t surprise many people if Hoerner batted over .300 and put up Gold Glove numbers, with an improved Cubs batting order behind him. Indeed, The Athletic writer Sahadev Sharma said Nico Hoerner’s style of play exemplifies what the 2023 Cubs are about, in his article for the periodical (subscribers only).

“He sets the tone of this group,” David Ross said, in that article. “The way he prepares, the way he goes about playing baseball. He’s the one that comes in on off days and is still doing his routine. He’s just a baseball rat. Another one of those great people that are really good baseball players. The fact that we get to have him around for a long time is really fortunate for me and this organization.”

Hoerner occupies the locker of former Cub Anthony Rizzo, who was likewise seen as the face of the franchise, and seems happy to be in that position. “I hope it’s not the last deal with this team. This is where I want to be,” he said to reporters. He keeps a pair of Rizzo’s batting gloves in it as ‘‘a reminder of what was there before,” said the Chicago Sun-Times’ Maddie Lee (and others), going on to add “One of the most satisfying things I could do in a career would be to be in one place from, quote-unquote, rebuild to the next championship.’’

“Hoerner hopes to serve as a bridge from the Cubs’ most successful run in franchise history to the next chapter,” says Andy Martinez, echoing that sentiment.

In the meantime, Hoerner took his degree in American Studies from Stanford in the 2020 offseason and then took that kind of dedication to the task of developing his career in Major League baseball, with results that we are just starting to see.

“I don’t think winning is something that you just happen upon,” Hoerner said, in a Patrick Mooney article (subscription required) that presaged Hoerner’s move to second, something that was anticipated by many people by the end of 2022.

Next up: Shortstop Dansby Swanson.