DENVER — The Cubs are trying to rebuild their team after moving a third of their Opening Day roster in the last two weeks. Their focus has shifted to who will be part of their future.
Second baseman Nico Hoerner and newly acquired second baseman Nick Madrigal are two reasons why the Cubs are optimistic about that future.
Hoerner, who is on the 10-day injured list with a right oblique strain, had established himself as the Cubs’ best option at second.
But with Madrigal coming over from the White Sox with skills the Cubs haven’t had a lot of over the years, they already have begun to envision what the two of them could do together.
“I texted him,” Hoerner said before the game Thursday. “Obviously wish we were both healthy and playing up the middle together right now, but just a great competitor.”
Hoerner and Madrigal haven’t gotten to play together in the big leagues, but they already have some chemistry from knowing each other over the years. Growing up about an hour away from each other, Hoerner and Madrigal played together for Team USA as teens.
Then they played against each other for three seasons in college while Hoerner was at Stanford and Madrigal was at Oregon State. Both were drafted in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft. Madrigal went fifth overall to the White Sox and Hoerner 24th to the Cubs.
“He’s someone I’ve definitely played against more than I played with,” Hoerner said. “We did grow up playing together, and our careers have been kind of parallel. [He’s] someone I have a ton of respect for and excited to honestly just spend more time with because we’ve always been playing against each other. Very cool.”
When Hoerner has been healthy, he has been one of the best defensive second baseman in the National League, with the metrics to back it up. Because Hoerner has more versatility than Madrigal, he’ll likely go back to moving around the diamond, seeing time at shortstop and possibly center field, where the Cubs liked his athleticism.
“There’s a strong group of players in the big leagues right now that are every-day players, and we’re All-Stars that play multiple positions,” Hoerner said. “So there’s definitely no shame in that. If anything, it’s exciting. It’s been fun honing in on second base, like I have in the last year or two, but I still really believe in my ability to play shortstop and other places, too.”
But what the Cubs are most excited about is how both players’ offensive profiles help change what they’ve been as a team for the last several seasons. Being able to have multiple players who can put the ball in play surrounded by power could change what the Cubs have shown since 2017. Madrigal was slashing .305/.349/.425 with 10 doubles, four triples and two home runs in 54 games before undergoing surgery in June to repair proximal tendon tears in his right hamstring.
“When you talk contact, he’s a whole ’nother level of contact hitter,” Hoerner said. “When you actually dive into it, he’s like the best, right? There’s no one that puts that bat on the ball as well as him.”
“The contact stuff is evident,” manager David Ross said. “You’ve got two guys that really don’t strike out, move the baseball, and you surround those types of guys with some real thunder in their bat. You get guys like that on base and not strike out, it makes it hard on the other team.”