I was completely down with the reasons for opening the season with David Bote as the starter at second base and Nico Hoerner at the alt site/Triple-A, given that the only options were Bote on the bench, Hoerner on the bench, or Hoerner down a level (where he’d never played before). Like the Cubs, I wanted to see what Bote had as a starter.
Now, then, I think it’s still too early to say Bote has answered any questions – I know a lot of you hate to hear it, but based on the contact data, he’s been one of the most unlucky hitters in baseball – but Hoerner has played his way into an issue. With Joc Pederson out, a starting spot opened up, and the Cubs filled it by rotating guys around and calling Hoerner up. Pederson will return soon enough, and the Cubs aren’t going to bench him without giving him a shot to show that he can be his usual self now that he’s over the injury. That means, like at the end of Spring Training, one of Hoerner or Bote have to go to the bench, or Hoerner has to go to Triple-A Iowa. But how, at this point, do you take Hoerner out of the starting lineup, much less send him to Iowa?
Fresh off a perfect day at the plate, including what proved to be the game game-winner, Hoerner has so far looked like a completely different hitter than last year. I see a guy who is much more ready to lay off pitcher’s pitches at the periphery of the zone, who is spoiling so many other good pitches, and who is spraying line drives all over the place instead of ground balls.
God I love watching Nico Hoerner work up there right now. Grinds Castillo for 9 pitches, and then laces one at the top of the zone the other way for a double. pic.twitter.com/Vd3W6yq5Us
— Bleacher Nation Cubs (@BleacherNation) May 1, 2021
The sample is so small that I’ll preach the obligatory caution. His numbers are going to come down. But you have to keep in mind that this is a guy who was abused by offspeed and breaking pitches last year, and yet this year, not only is he seeing them even more often, he seems to be handling them much better. He’s also working his way into more fastball counts, where he does his most damage. Hoerner’s line is up to .375/.487/.531 with more walks (17.9%) than strikeouts (15.4%).
Again, I have to be careful about pronouncements because it’s 39 PAs, but he just looks like a different hitter this year, which does track with the improvements and changes he made over the offseason, and also would track with how clearly last season exposed what he needed to work on.
We’ll see what happens when Pederson returns, but right now, there’s no reason to expect that Hoerner won’t keep starting for the big league Cubs.
Nico Hoerner. Ball player. pic.twitter.com/L8WzAHWAA7
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 2, 2021