Most of the Cubs Minor League pundits are split into two camps at the moment: (1) Team Nico Hoerner is the Best Prospect in the Cubs Organization and (2) Team Miguel Amaya is the Best Prospect in the Cubs Organization … we’re, uh, working on better names.
It doesn’t really matter which guy is the top-dog right now – they’re both good, so whatever – but there are some notable difference between the two. Although both seem likely to contribute a quality bat at the big league level when they get there, Amaya, the catcher, plays a more important defensive position. With Hoerner currently manning the second-most important defensive position on the field, shortstop, the difference isn’t huge, but the gap will widen, if and when he’s forced to second base.
On the other hand, Hoerner is a year older than Amaya, and thanks to his college days, has a little more overall polish at the dish. And with today’s news, he’s also apparently further along in his development: Nico Hoerner is starting the year out at Double-A Tennessee!
Evan Altman of Cubs Insider had it first:
Source: As expected, top Cubs prospect Nico Hoerner will skip high-A Myrtle Beach and will open season at AA Tennessee.
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) March 28, 2019
And I can confirm that report. Bryan’s been guessing this would happen for a while now, so good on him, too.
After being drafted just last June, Hoerner is starting out his first full professional season at the Double-A level. That is an incredibly fast track, reminiscent of Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant, each of whom, you’ll note, were first-round draft picks out of college, known for their polished approaches at the plate.
- Bryant: Drafted June 2013, started out the 2014 season at Double-A, reached the Majors by 2015.
- Schwarber: Drafted June 2014, started out the 2015 season at Double-A, reached the Majors by 2015 (ungodly fast-track)
- Happ: Drafted June 2015, started the 2016 season out at High-A, but reached Double-A by the end of the year and was in the Majors by 2017 (similar to Bryant’s pace)
- Hoerner: Drafted June 2018, started the 2019 season out at Double-A
Obviously, given that both Schwarber *and* Happ were forced back into the Minors at one point, means that this isn’t some fool proof plan, but I just want to show you how accelerated this pace really is.
And it’s worth pointing out: each of those three players above – Bryant, Schwarber, Happ – were drafted in the top-10 of their draft. Hoerner, by contrast, was a mid top-20s pick. That’s a big difference and another feather in his cap, vis a vis the Cubs’ opinion. And I suppose it’s also worth noting that despite getting some make-up time in the AFL, Hoerner’s 2018 season was cut short by injury. He has almost no professional experience at this point, and yet he’s starting his first full year just a couple clicks away from the big leagues.
I don’t expect to see Hoerner in the big leagues this season, but I also want to be clear: it’s a possibility. If, by some miracle, he absolutely destroys Double-A pitching AND finds time to prove himself at Triple-A AND the Cubs are competitive AND they need someone to play second base, because something happens to more than one of Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Daniel Descalso, and Ben Zobrist, then Hoerner might get the call. It’s extremely unlikely – 2020 seems like his year – but it’s not strictly impossible once a guy gets to Double-A.
Given what’s happened with Schwarber and Happ, I’d almost prefer the Cubs to slow play it, no matter the circumstances. In any case, the Cubs clearly feel quite good about Hoerner and his abilities, because this is the sort of accelerated plan they save for very few prospects. Exciting.