Just over a year and 89 minor league games after he was drafted, Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Chicago Cubs, going 3/5 with 4 RBI in his debut, as the Cubs starting SS on September 7th. While the rest of his first month in the majors wasn’t quite as spectacular, Hoerner’s debut was a bit of a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season for the Cubs. His .282/.305/.436 grades out as below average overall, but it displayed his plus hit tool, as well as surprising power. Hoerner has been somewhat of a hot commodity this offseason, so my goal here is to help you realistically guide your expectations for Nico Hoerner, both for 2020 and moving forward.
When Hoerner was drafted, he was seen as a safe, but unexciting pick, yet here he is getting people excited about his fantasy potential. Hoerner’s hit tool has always been his best tool, as he was a .300 hitter through both his last two years of college, and the two summers he spent in wood bat collegiate summer leagues. While he’s shown to be a competent fielder, and can run pretty well, Hoerner didn’t seem to have anything outside of his hit tool that could help him contribute in fantasy, yet here we are. Nico Hoerner’s AA stats seem pretty in line with how he fared in his major league debut. He walked a bit more, and didn’t show as much power, but the overall slash line was very similar.
What you will get with Nico Hoerner is definite consistency. He hit .303 in college, .297 in the minors, and .282 in the majors. His walk rate in the minors was under 10.0%, and only jumped to 13.4% in the majors. I can confidently say that Hoerner will hit for average in the majors, although his walk percentage will never be anything special, so he will be significantly more valuable in standard leagues than in OBP leagues. The fantasy production outside of his average is where question marks start to appear, so let’s try to answer some of those questions.
First of all, power is a big question mark for Hoerner. Across three years of college and 2 years of summer ball, Hoerner hit only 11 HR, and for reference he hit the same amount of HR in college as Nick Madrigal. Through almost 400 PA of minor league play, he also only hit 5 HR, so most assumed he would hit for below average power. Despite this, he hit 3 HR in only 82 PA, which while it’s a small sample, is a 22 HR pace over a full 600 PA season. While others are higher on his power, I’m personally not very optimistic. Hoerner’s average FB distance in the minors was below 300 ft., and only rose to 307 ft. in the majors. This would’ve only been about 20 spots from the bottom had he qualified. Players with an average FB distance between 305 ft. – 310 ft. averaged a HR/FB% of 14.45%, which is a far cry from Hoerner’s 20.0%, so I think Hoerner is in for regression in that department.
The other thing that concerns me is Hoerner’s batted ball tendencies. In the minors, Hoerner had a GB% of 45.4 %, and that jumped all the way up to 55.6% in the majors. While I think Hoerner’s raw power itself is overrated, he’s not going to be able to chip in a lot of power while only hitting flyballs 20% of the time. Using Hoerner’s K%, BB%, FB%, and expected HR/FB% to calculate his estimated HR, I would predict Hoerner to hit about 15 HR, assuming he gets about 600 PA. I would say anything above 15 HR is getting into the optimistic territory, so don’t get your hopes up for Hoerner being a power contributor in 2020. If he revamped his approach to hit more flyballs, which I fully believe he is capable of, then I see no reason that Hoerner can’t do that further on in his career, but to do it in such quick fashion would surprise me.
While Hoerner can run very well, with his sprint speed grading as 89th percentile, he’s not much of a base stealer. In the minors this year he was 8/12 on SB in 70 games, and didn’t even attempt to steal in the majors. I think Hoerner will steal a few bases, but I wouldn’t count on him carrying your team in the speed department. I predict Hoerner will steal around 8-10 bases, but I’d be surprised if he stole many more. Depending on where he hits in the lineup (he mostly hit 8th in September), Hoerner could be a decent source of R and RBI, but that remains to be seen at this point. I think he’s a solid option in standard 5×5 leagues, but I feel as if he’s being overvalued a little bit. A guy like Mauricio Dubon, who I talked about in my last article, will likely give you similar production to Hoerner, but will likely fall further down in the draft. In dynasty leagues, however, I would definitely much rather have Hoerner.
One thing to look out for is Hoerner’s positional eligibility. He already has SS eligibility coming into the season, and will likely be the Cubs starting 2B come opening day. He also spent some time in CF this year, which is a position of need for Chicago. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hoerner obtained eligibility at 2B, SS, and OF, which would definitely help his value. If you’re drafting Hoerner expecting to break out and have a 20/20 season, I certainly wouldn’t get your hopes up, but if you want consistent production to go along with positional versatility, then Hoerner is a great option in the later rounds. As long as you keep your expectations in check, then Hoerner should be a solid part of any fantasy team in 2020 and moving forward.