Amid Cubs turnover, Nico Hoerner emerging as ‘a natural leader’

Hoerner, 25, is the Cubs’ second-longest tenured infielder.

SHARE Amid Cubs turnover, Nico Hoerner emerging as ‘a natural leader’
Nico Hoerner is emerging as a leader of a changing Cubs roster.

Nico Hoerner is emerging as a leader of a changing Cubs roster.

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner pointed to the 2019 roster, one that included the core three who were traded last year — Kris Bryant, Javy Báez and Anthony Rizzo — but also names like Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Tony Kemp.

“I feel like I debuted recently,” Hoerner said, “but if you look at the roster then to now, and just like all the people that have come through between then and now, it just happens fast, and the turnover is crazy. And that’s true in a lot of places.”

The Cubs called up Hoerner from his couch — he infamously made his debut after the Double-A season had already concluded — less than three years ago. Injuries to Báez and Russell had accelerated his path to the majors. And now, the 25-year-old is the Cubs’ second-longest tenured infielder.

On the 40-man roster, only Kyle Hendricks, Jason Heyward, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, David Bote, Alec Mills and Rowan Wick debuted with the team before Hoerner. The Aug. 2 trade deadline is expected to shrink that list even further.

“He’s a mature human being outside of his baseball experience,” manager David Ross said of Hoerner. “And then you take that his work ethic, his mindset, his baseball IQ, and you put that into a championship-type team that was on its way to the playoffs when he first got thrown into the mix.”

Ross, sitting in the visitors’ dugout at Dodger Stadium earlier this month, compared Hoerner’s initiation into the major leagues to the path of Gavin Lux, who had homered against the Cubs the night before.

“He’s able to watch the Freddie Freemans, the Trea Turners, the Justin Turners, Mookie Betts — he’s able to watch MVPs all around him go about their business,” Ross said.

The Cubs drafted Hoerner out of Stanford in 2018, when the team was still basking in the glow of three straight NLCS appearances and a curse-breaking World Series. The next season he spent spring training and September with a team chock-full of champions.

The difference is, Lux could be playing alongside at least Freeman and Betts for years to come, as the Dodgers commit to extending their nine-year playoff streak.

Hoerner, as the Cubs are headed for another trade deadline sell-off, is already growing into an example for the next wave of young Cubs talent.

“He’s a natural leader, I think he’s got that in him,” Happ told the Sun-Times recently. “Played in a really good college program, big college program. And he’s had to spend a lot of time keeping himself healthy and on the field and learning the big leagues himself through a lot of transition.”

Despite the continued turnover of the players around him, Hoerner has been able to experience more consistency lately. He has had the same manager since 2020, and he ha+s been working with bench coach Andy Green in the infield since then. For the first time in his career, Hoerner surpassed the 50-game mark this season.

“He knows what it looks like now,” Happ said. “And you’re getting to see, as a complete player, how special it is. Because he can run the bases, play awesome defense in the middle of the field — that’s a contagious thing.”

In 82 games this year, Hoerner is hitting .306with a career-high 23 extra-base hits. He entered the Wednesday off day with the lowest strikeout percentage in the National League (10.2%), according to FanGraphs.

“He’s really focused,” Contreras said. “I call him the alien the way he plays, the way his eyes are, he’s just focused the whole time, and he’s just a great player. He’s going to be in the league for a long time.”

Contreras just went through an emotional farewell tour at Wrigley Field in what may have been his last home series as a Cub. Happ could also be on the move at the deadline. But Hoerner is expected to remain.

NOTE: Cubs lefty Wade Miley (left shoulder strain) is set to make a rehab start at Single-A South Bend on Friday, the Sun-Times confirmed, four days before the trade deadline. The veteran only has made four appearances this season due to injuries, which will have to be a consideration for any potential trade partner.

Miley told the Sun-Times over the weekend that he expects to need at least two rehab starts before returning from the 15-day injured list.

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