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Second chance? Nico Hoerner’s unexpected opportunity could mean 2020 vision for Cubs

With veteran Ben Zobrist’s contract expiring and Addison Russell’s future with the club in doubt, Hoerner could be in play for at least a share of next year’s second base job.

Chicago Cubs v San Diego Padres
Barely 15 months after playing his last game for Stanford, Hoerner went 5-for-14 with two walks during the Cubs’ four-game split in San Diego this week.
Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

SAN DIEGO — As infield prospect Nico Hoerner tries to affect what’s left of this season for the Cubs, consider what his effect might be on next season.

Called up suddenly from Class AA on Monday as an emergency shortstop because of injuries, Hoerner could play himself into the mix for a role in the Cubs’ middle infield coming out of spring training next year.

“Since I’ve been called up here, my focus has definitely been on the present day and this season,” said Hoerner, who became the first pick from the 2018 draft to reach the majors. “I’m not taking being a part of a division and wild-card race at all for granted. That’s where my attention’s been.

“But, of course, moving forward, I know this has implications for my career.”

With veteran Ben Zobrist’s contract expiring and Addison Russell’s future with the club in doubt, Hoerner could be in play for at least a share of the second-base job.

The 24th overall pick last year reached base in all four games of the Padres series, going 5-for-14 with two walks and playing mistake-free in the field during the Cubs’ split.

With Russell still in baseball’s concussion protocol as the team opens a 10-game homestand Friday, Hoerner’s next assignment is a Wrigley Field debut.

“It’ll be awesome to play in front of that crowd for the first time and feel the city and enjoy [Wrigley],” he said.

And that’s about as far down the road as he plans to think right now.

“This year from the start, for me, has been about development,” said Hoerner, who missed two months of that development with a wrist injury early in the season. “I know I have a long way to go as a player, chasing my highest potential. And I’ll take that into next year, as well, no matter where I am.

“As far as where I start next year, it’s a long way off for me right now. But I know the things I do on a daily basis here can impact that. If I continue to be where my feet are and be present with today and then the next day, hopefully those things take care of themselves.”

And if that means opening next season on the other side of the bag from shortstop Javy Baez?

“That would be a dream come true,” he said. “But we’ll get there when we get there.”

Clock ticking on Kimbrel

Closer Craig Kimbrel, who’s on the injured list because of a sore elbow, threw a 24-pitch bullpen session Thursday, including at least one breaking ball or two, and said he was “fine.”

He declined to elaborate and, pending evaluation Friday, is expected to need at least one more bullpen session before a timeline for his return can be projected.

Thursday was the $43 million right-hander’s first eligible day to return.

The Cubs have 16 games left in the season.

Zobrist update

Zobrist, the Cubs’ best leadoff hitter, was out of the lineup for a second consecutive day since fouling a ball off his right knee Tuesday and is expected to get at least one more day on the bench because of the pitching matchup Friday, manager Joe Maddon said.

Zobrist pinch-hit in the seventh and drove in a run with a grounder.