While I can’t say this decision will find many supporters in Chicago (and the concern about service time manipulation is at least a legitimate one given the organization’s history), I do genuinely understand why the Cubs would elect to roll with Eric Sogard over Nico Hoerner *to start the season* as reported by Jeff Passan earlier tonight.
David Bote, who the Cubs have locked up long-term, has hit very well in camp. So has Sogard, who has been on a minor league deal. Ildemaro Vargas has been solid, too. But Hoerner does have a 1.052 OPS this spring and was a Gold Glove finalist at 2B in 2020.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 27, 2021
Hoerner, 23, is already a Gold Glove caliber middle infielder and the organization’s primary backup for Javy Baez at shortstop (and was also having a really great spring), but he has struggled mightily at the plate since being forced into big league duty at the end of the 2019 season (his 73 wRC+ ranks 12th worst in MLB for any batters with at least 200 PAs since his big league debut).
But that’s not entirely his fault. As I’ve mentioned before, he still has *far* less minor league experience than many of the recent Cubs prospects, all of whom were relatively rushed to the majors, themselves!
Minor League PAs before MLB:
• Nico Hoerner: 375 PAs
• Kyle Schwarber: 621
• Jorge Soler: 622
• Kris Bryant: 773
• Ian Happ: 978
• Addison Russell: 1,087
• Javier Báez: 1,350
• Albert Almora Jr.: 1,788
• Willson Contreras: 2,132
So, as I’ve explained many times before, I am alright with the Cubs sending Hoerner to the alternate site (for the first month) and ultimately Triple-A Iowa to start the year (where he still hasn’t taken a single at-bat). At the end of the day, he needs more time to develop his offensive approach against pitchers who will attack him *like* a big league pitcher will, but with worse stuff (velocity, movement, etc.). And, yes, I know a big spring training performance makes that easy to forget, but we can’t let ourselves learn the same lesson the hard way year after year.
And to be *crystal* clear, I only support this decision – which will likely make the Cubs worse in the short term – because I believe so strongly in Hoerner’s future. If I didn’t, I’d say his value to a team that absolutely *needs* his quality of defense in the infield is more important than his development. And, frankly, this could hurt the Cubs chances in the first half, which could make decisions even tougher at the deadline.
But, again, I think the long-term value – plus reasonable bridge options in Eric Sogard (whom the Cubs front office obviously loves) plus the lively bat of David Bote (who, himself, deserves a good look) – may make it all worth it in the end.
I am sure we will see Nico Hoerner up with the Cubs before the end of the season, and likely for a long time after that.
As for the service time manipulation stuff brought up in the Passan tweet, I don’t know. I don’t want to comment on it too directly without knowing all the facts. But I do know a few things: (1) Hoerner does have stuff to work on in the minors, (2) The Cubs have dealt with serious service time manipulation grievances before (Kris Bryant), and (3) teams hold prospects/young players down for all sorts of reasons, some with malintent, others not.