Minor League Monday: Nico Hoerner Needs AAA
Nico Hoerner needs seasoning. He's super hot in spring training and people are clamoring for him to start the year as the opening day second baseman. I completely disagree. If this was a normal year with AAA starting on time, I would place him there for a couple months.
My main reason, Nico has struggled and has gotten a proportionally tiny amount of time in the minor leagues. He's since been pressed into action and hasn't gotten the chance to develop.
He's 24, yet only has 89 games, 375 MiLB PAs. 70 of those games were at the AA level in 2019.
While he does have 168 games of college, his overall baseball experience is much lower than other Cubs who have come up through the minors.
Nico Hoerner: 89 MiLB Games (168 College)
Kyle Schwarber: 158 MiLB games (180 college)
Kris Bryant: 187 minor league games (after 172 college games)
Jason Heyward: 249 MiLB games (no college)
Ian Happ: 326 MILB games (163 College)
Javy Baez: 397 MiLB games
Albert Almora: 418 MILB games
Anthony Rizzo 445 MiLB games (no college)
Willson Contreras: 520 MilB games
Perhaps it's just a team specific thing. Maybe the Cubs know something I don't. Nico Hoerner was the 24th pick in the 2018 draft. There were 5 other position players with college experience taken before him. Here's what their playing time situations look like.
Alec Bohm: 165 MiLB 166 NCAA, 44 games for PHI last year
Nick Madrigal: 163 MiLB games, 151 NCAA, 29 for the white sox last year
Jonathan India: 165 MiLB, 194 NCAA, no MLB
Kyler Murray: 78 NCAA, no MILB
Travis Swaggerty: 173 MILB, 174 NCAA no MLB
Nico Hoerner's 68 games at the MLB level is basically the same as everyone else from that draft.
According to baseball reference, Nico was worth .7 WAR despite putting up a brutal 57 OPS+ in 108 at bats. Just for reference, that 57 OPS+ was the worst on the team last year, which was filled with hugely disappointing seasons. His main issue was an inability to hit the ball hard. Nico Hoerner hits ground balls nearly 11% more than average MLB hitters. He also hits 13% less fly balls. In a launch angle league, these numbers don't cut it.
LD%: 25%->21%, MLB average: 21.5%
FB%: 22->23%, MLB: 36%
GB%:52.5%-> 55%, MLB: 43%
Because of this, his BABIP is significantly below average:
It's not that I don't believe in Nico Hoerner. he just needs some time to develop. Unfortunately, between the Cubs injury situation in September of 2019, then the cancelled 2020 MiLB season, and only 60 games of MLB, Nico's been pushed far beyond his current capabilities. Pitchers have taken advantage:
Nico needs some time at AAA, to learn to pick up off speed pitches and develop more power. Unfortunately, with AAA now not starting until April, he's caught between a rock and a hard place. I don't have an easy solution for that. He'll have to stick at the MLB level through April. Perhaps David Ross can find some solid matchups for him. Perhaps he needs to start, struggle, then go down with a list of goals. But mark my words, Nico is just not ready to shine. Soon enough, provided he gets the opportunity to make adjustments.