It used to be that the Cubs had all the shortstops back in 2014 and 2015. People wondered where they were going to play them all. It looks like things worked out nicely from that era and the Cubs are about to enter into another shortstop dilemma in 2019.
Last Thursday, the 30th, the Cubs announced that they would be sending 2018 number one draft pick Nico Hoerner to the Arizona Fall League (AFL). It’s quite a step up in talent for someone who only saw 49 at bats in 14 games in 2018 as a pro and who only reached the heights of low class A South Bend. But in those 14 games, Hoerner hit .327 with an eye-popping .450 OBP with two HRs, six RBI, and a monster 1.021 OPS.
When it comes to going to Mesa in October, Nico‘s performance in the AFL is going to be a little eye-opening. We’ll see just how advanced he is against elite young prospects from all over baseball, and we will see how advanced he isn’t. If there is some flaw or area that needs improvement, it will show up quickly. If Hoerner’s tenure in Arizona is met with any kind of success, it could change everything for the SS position in the Cubs’ minors.
The question that comes from Hoerner’s performance this fall will have more to do with the future of Aramis Ademan. The former number one prospect slipped a little this year, as Ademan played a level above where he probably should’ve been. After a short tutelage at South Bend in 2017, Ademan played the entire 2018 season at Myrtle Beach as a 19-year-old in the Carolina League, a league that averages 23 to 24 years of age.
Ademan had his moments, but most of the year he struggled to get on base consistently. In August, he barely hit his weight with a .256 OBP (yes, you read that right). Unless he takes some sort of massive jump in his development this off season, Ademan is likely to be the one most affected by Hoerner’s ascension.
Horner quickly showed at South Bend that he has a high potential for power while being able to play a very polished shortstop. Clearly, he’s more advanced at that level then Ademan was (and likely is). While there is no rush to get Hoerner to the majors as soon as possible, his play and profile might make it impossible to keep him down in the lower rungs of class A. If Hoerner does well in Mesa this fall, he should be the one to start at AA next year rather than Ademan.
Is Ademan’s development going to be stunted if he has to redo Myrtle Beach? That’s not likely to happen. Ademan definitely has things he needs to improve to succeed at that level. While his defense is fairly good, Ademan will have to do something at the plate more than pull fastballs down the right-field line. He needs to be able to spray the ball and to take a walk, something Horner already does.
If Hoerner is as good as we think, he can go to Double-A and hopefully succeed at the age of 21. If the Cubs are confident in Hoerner, as his assignment to the AFL suggests, then Hoerner could play some second base down in Mesa to get him more versatility should he advance quickly toward Chicago next summer.
On the surface, it might seem like Ademan and his success are tied to his shortstop position. In fact, they are not symbiotic, as Ademan only needs to worry about himself and doing the best that he can. Ademan can’t worry about where Hoerner is going to play and when. And the same holds true for Hoerner.
As for Hoerner’s development as a hitter, he already has a solid approach and great bat to ball skills. Then again, most of his hitting is generated from a great upper half swing. If Hoerner can use his lower half more, he could begin to crank out home runs at a faster pace than he did in the past. Right now, Hoerner is a very polished player who could crank out 15-20 home runs a year in the middle infield. Some swing adjustments could generate an additional 5-10 dingers a year. Hoerner, if his track record is any indication, can become very good very quickly.
Hoerner should be a fun prospect to follow for six weeks in Arizona. We’ll see how much he does generate some power and improve from his already polished state. If he is seen playing second base for Mesa, that could open the door to Chicago much, much faster than previously thought.
Lead photo of Nico Hoerner by Todd Johnson