If you poll baseball fans on the top 10 shortstops in the league many of the same names come up. Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correra, Corey Seager, Francsico Lindor, and so on. Even Dansby Swanson has earned discussion after his tremendous season. One name you likely will not hear is Nico Hoerner. However, his unconventional, old-school play might change that soon.
At one point in time, shortstop was thought of as a glove-first position. Anything a player brought you offensively was a plus. Well, that has changed in the eyes of many teams. Shortstop is now a position where the bat is being relied on more and more, and power is almost expected. Hoerner is finding ways to provide incredible value in other ways.
But, will he provide enough value to be the Cubs long-term answer at short?
Bat-to-ball, hit for average players are becoming more and more rare each year. Power is king, but that does not mean other skills sets cannot make up a great baseball player. Hoerner profiles as a fantastic contact hitter (91.7% zone contact rate) with elite speed and defense and those skills have propelled him into underrated territory.
As you can see from the picture above, Hoerner excels at making contact, just not hard contact. In fact, his low 2.2% barrel rate is actually the highest of his career.
In 2022, Hoerner is slashing .289/.336/.406 good for a 108 wRC+, not exactly numbers that jump off the page but will keep him in a lineup. However, Hoerner’s defense, speed, and ability to contact bat has earned him the seventh highest fWAR (3.6) in the league among shortstops, right above Willy Adames and behind Corey Seager. Not bad company to hold.
When I say his defense is elite, I mean it. Hoerner is second amongst all shortstops in Outs Above Average with 15, one behind Dansby Swanson. He has also been credited with saving 10 runs while having a higher success rate, 80%, than expected success rate, 77%.
I know, I know, a bunch of numbers that might not mean much to some. How about if we just show you how good his defense is?
Plus defender, great speed, and a limited bat-to ball profile. While he only strikes out around 11%, he also walks at a low 5.7%. This profile is looking more and more like a second baseman than a shortstop. Moving an elite defender from short will be difficult, but the Cubs were linked to other star shortstops this past winter, including Carlos Correa.
At only 25 years old, Hoerner might not be a finished product. If he can find a way to hit for a little more power, or increase his walk rate to 10% sticking at short seems more realistic. The fact is, Chicago wants to win sooner than later. If reports of them wanting to add an impact bat are true, short is a position they could look towards.
Don’t get me wrong, Hoerner very much would still have a role on this team. He’s the ~fancy~, and better, Nick Madrigal. If Hoerner moves to second, you have an elite defender who’s value only increases once the league limits shifts. Covering more ground at second is something that might initially get overlooked but should provide immense value.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to the Cubs preference. A Gold Glove-caliber shortstop who holds his own at the plate would be welcomed on many teams. If Chicago elects to go for a big name to build around, Hoerner could slide to second. Regardless of where he plays, the Cubs have a young and talented piece for the future. A player who’s skills will complete the lineup while making it more diverse.