The Cubs went back to their college-hitter comfort zone Monday, selecting Stanford shortstop Nico Hoerner with the 24th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.
The 5-11 junior, whose team was eliminated in the postseason by Cal State Fullerton over the weekend, is a touted contact hitter with above-average speed who fills a need in the middle infield, which has been gutted in the organization by trades of prospects in recent years.
This year, he ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in hitting (.345) and second in steals (15). He also had 20 walks and an .887 OPS.
“He’s a multi-tool athlete with incredible makeup,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ top scouting and player-development executive, who also lauded Hoerner’s “elite hand-eye” skills as a hitter during a conference call with reporters.
“He’s a leader on the field. He’s a leader in the dugout. He’s incredibly passionate and all about winning. He’s exactly what we’re looking to bring into the organization.”
Given the Cubs’ continuing need for pitching in the organization and their focus on that in recent years, some were surprised by the position-player pick. The Cubs used their top picks in each of the last two years on pitchers after taking hitters with first-round picks in each of the first four drafts under team president Theo Epstein.
Hoerner said “it’s pretty amazing” seeing the track record and success of such college first-round picks as Kris Bryant (2013), Kyle Schwarber (2014) and Ian Happ (2015).
He seemed just as amazed at discovering the scope of Cubs fandom while playing in the Northwoods League for the Madison, Wisconsin, team.
“To have a chance to be part of an organization with that kind of fan base is really special,” he said.
Although some evaluators suggest Hoerner eventually could slide to second base as a pro, if he can stick at short, it could go a long way toward backfilling for trade losses such as highly ranked shortstops Gleyber Torres (to the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in 2016) and Isaac Paredes (to the Tigers in the Justin Wilson-Alex Avila trade last year).
McLeod said Hoerner has the kind of athletic ability that could translate to other positions, as well.
“I’m going to play shortstop as long as that’s OK with them,” said Hoerner, who’s open to moving around. “It’s what I love to do. I think I can do that at a real high level.”
Hoerner, 21, went undrafted as a high school player but raised his stock throughout college, especially during an All-Star season in the Cape Cod League last year, when he hit .300 with seven doubles and six homers.
“The Cape Cod League was huge for me,” Hoerner said.
In the second round, the Cubs drafted high school outfielder Brennen Davis of Arizona with the 62nd pick. With the 77th and 78th picks — awarded as compensation for the free-agent losses of Wade Davis and Jake Arrieta — the team selected high school outfielder Cole Roederer of California and college right-hander Paul Richan of the University of San Diego.
The Cubs’ signing-bonus allotment for the draft is just over $7.5 million, with just more than $2.7 million allotted for the first-round pick.