Each day in March, NBC Sports Chicago is previewing one player from the Cubs’ expected 2020 Opening Day roster. Next up is infielder Nico Hoerner.
Hoerner was pressed in action last season after Javier Báez and Addison Russell went down with injuries in September. The 22-year-old shortstop, who had yet to play a game above Double-A, filled in admirably.
In 20 games, Hoerner hit .282 with 17 RBIs and a .741 OPS, playing a solid defensive shortstop. His big league debut was one for the ages; Hoerner went 3-for-5 with four RBIs, leading the Cubs in a 10-2 win over the Padres.
Expectations for this season’s role
A majority of Hoerner’s playing time will come at second base, now that Báez is healthy. He could be an option in center field, as he gains more reps out there, all while being the primary backup at short. What remains to be seen is when he’ll join the Cubs roster.
Hoerner was competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster prior to MLB suspending spring training due to COVID-19. He was more likely to start the year in Triple-A, as Jason Kipnis, David Bote and Daniel Descalso are also in the second base picture.
Could the coronavirus hiatus change the trajectory of Hoerner’s season? The 2020 schedule is likely to be condensed and tightened, with potential scenarios where there may be fewer off days or even scheduled doubleheaders.
That would mean needing to find more days to rest players, which would make it easier to give Hoerner 300+ plate appearances than a normal schedule, based on the Cubs’ current roster construction.
Then again, the Cubs may want Hoerner to get more seasoning in the minors anyhow. He posted a 3.7 BB% last season, and small sample aside, could benefit from seeing more advanced pitching in Triple-A.
If the Cubs feel Hoerner is ready from Day 1 — whenever that may be — perhaps we see him make the Opening Day roster after all. Ultimately, his development takes priority, and there’s no use in him sitting on a big league bench.
The complete roster outlook series:
1. Cubs hoping Kris Bryant stabilizes leadoff spot in 2020
2. Kyle Hendricks is a steady force in the Cubs' rotation
3. Kyle Schwarber is primed for a breakout 2020 season
4. Tyler Chatwood has chance to rewrite the script in 2020
5. David Bote searching for more offensive consistency in 2020
6. One pitch could hold key to Jose Quintana's 2020 success
7. Albert Almora Jr. looking to rebound behind new swing, refreshed mental state
8. Cubs counting on bounce back season from Craig Kimbrel
9. Javier Báez is indispensable, and the best is yet to come
10. New pitch key to Rowan Wick staving off regression
11. New MLB rule gives Victor Caratini chance for bigger role
12. Daniel Descalso can only improve from last season
13. Ian Happ poised to claim starting center field job
14. Jeremy Jeffress can bounce back in Chicago
15. Lineup adjustment could be key to Jason Heyward's success
16. Anthony Rizzo remains an all-around rock for Chicago
17. Kyle Ryan's versatility key in uncertain bullpen
18. Now is not the time to write off Jon Lester
19. Willson Contreras' health is critical to team's success
20. How Alec Mills fits on Opening Day roster
21. Steven Souza Jr. could provide needed boost vs. lefties