Monday marks the beginning of the second half of the Arizona Fall League, which sees nine Cubs prospects playing against a collection of their best peers from around the minors. The inclusion of shortstop Nico Hoerner raised a few eyebrows since it marked only the second time the Cubs had assigned a first-year player to the AFL (Kris Bryant was first). But Hoerner’s performance against elite competition has shown why the organization is so bullish on him.
What’s even more impressive about Hoerner’s performance in Mesa is his lack of experience as a professional. An elbow injury forced the Cubs to shut him down after fewer than 60 total plate appearances, not even 20 of which came at low-A South Bend. He understands that his time in the AFL is largely about making up for missed time.
“I’ve never been hurt before…but I think it could almost end up being a good thing in that I’m able to have this experience here in the Fall League now,” Hoerner told Kelsie Heneghan of MiLB.com. “So while it stinks to miss out on the couple hundred at-bats this summer, making them up with maybe 100 at-bats here in the Fall League against better pitching is going to really, really benefit me in the long run.”
So far, Hoerner has played 12 games and is hitting .373 with one home run and 8 RBI with an .890 OPS. He’s also played second base once, but that’s just scouting the stat line. In order to evaluate his performance, you have to dig a little deeper. One of the first things that sticks out is how he is working deep counts. The strikeouts are a little high (27.4%), but he is seeing a lot of pitches and is not just going up there and hacking. Hoerner is getting five or six pitches each at-bat, sometimes more.
There are still about 15 games left and Hoerner will probably play in 10-12 of them, which should get him about 50 more at-bats. Yes, it is a small sample size, but still enough to show us a couple of things. It’s showing that he is more advanced than previously thought, really showing off the qualities that led the Cubs to select him so high.
Hoerner has a good approach with good pitch-recognition skills and when he squares the ball up, it makes the kind of sound you don’t hear too often. His power didn’t manifest at Stanford, but he hit two homers in this limited time this summer and I think the potential is greater if he’s able to use his lower half to full effect.
Cubs SS Nico Hoerner with a laser Single. Quiet hands slot at shoulder length. Fairly easy, short stride. Hips uncork explosively as bat enters hitting zone. Easy plus bat speed. Sexy swing pic.twitter.com/ShJ28YPFMA
— Prospects Live (@ProspectsLive) October 24, 2018
Hoerner’s fall experience is not going to tell us where he’ll start or what position he’ll play next year. I am sure some fans would love to see him at AA Tennessee, but high-A Myrtle Beach is the likely choice for now. And despite that game at second base, it’s pretty clear he’ll remain at short for now. If the Cubs are going to change his position, it’s more than likely going to occur during spring training or as the result of another promotion.
Keep an eye on Hoerner as the second half of the AFL season begins to see whether and how he’s able to adjust further to the more experienced pitching he’ll face.