.Chicago Cubs second baseman, and former shortstop, Nico Hoerner built upon his 2021 season into a productive 2022 campaign that ultimately sparked the Cubs to sign him to a three-year extension worth $35M. Prior to 2022, Hoerner was a high-contact guy with not much thump, but he managed to swat 10 home runs, 22 doubles, and five triples last year, en route to a .410 SLG. While fantasy managers will have to wait until he gets second base eligibility, it won’t be long, and he’ll have that coveted multi-position eligibility that we love when setting our fantasy baseball lineups. Hoerner had a great 2022 season, and the Cubs have completely rebuilt its lineup, but can Hoerner take the next step in 2023, or is he shaping up to be a fantasy baseball bust? Is Hoerner a fantasy baseball must have player with Opening Day approaching? Let’s examine.
I won’t bury the lede here. If you play in a points-based league, Hoerner probably is going to fall down your draft boards. Stolen bases tend to be overshadowed in points leagues, and with a lack of consistent power in his game, he won’t rack up the points like others do. In roto formats, Hoerner is going to play, because he should hit for a good average, he runs, and he should spend the majority of the season at the top of an intriguing Cubs lineup. It’s interesting how his walks completely dissipated last year, as it was nearly cut in half compared to 2021, but once again, he made a ton of contact and posted a career-low 11 percent strikeout rate.
In 2022, Hoerner slashed .281/.327/.410 with 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases. There were just six players to be in the 10/20 club with a batting average of at least .280, and they are as follows:
When delving into his season last year, he had some interesting splits:
As the year went on, particularly in the second half, his fly ball rate ticked up, but his soft contact and hard contact rates went the wrong way, making the added fly balls more detrimental to Hoerner. Well, it certainly showed in terms of his batting average. Every now and then, it will work out, as he posted a 59th percentile max exit velocity last year. However, his average exit velocity of the 16th percentile means more often than not, fly balls may be more detrimental than beneficial for Hoerner. He’s not a big slugger. That’s not his game, and for optimal fantasy value, fantasy managers do not want Hoerner to try to become something that he isn’t.
Hoerner’s ability to put the bat on the ball has never been in question, but his improvements last year against breaking pitches made him an even tougher out for opposing pitchers. He hit .301 against breaking pitches (.277 xBA), and his average exit velocity against breaking pitches was through the roof compared to years past.
Call me pessimistic, especially after he hit 10 home runs last year, but can we comfortably predict another double-digit homer season? Can you project it? Sure. Can you do it comfortably, especially when taking into account that his barrel rate, average exit velocity and xSLG have never been higher than the 30th percentile? I don’t think so.
His path to avoiding regression in the power department is volume, and he should get that. Hoerner figures to be the leadoff hitter for the Cubs this year, and last year, all but 45 of his at-bats came from the bottom half of the order. He primarily hit fifth and sixth for the Cubs last year, but if he can hold the reins on the leadoff spot, he could reach 600 plate appearances, which will help offset likely regression in his AB/HR mark.
In 2023, Hoerner will hit for a good average and steal 18+ bases with ease. If this rebuilt Chicago lineup lives up to its potential, then he should add 70+ runs to his ledger, so long as his walk rate is closer to 10 percent than five percent. Hoerner should hit around 8-10 home runs, but again, the added volume should at least make his stat line look similar to last season, despite the underlying metrics showing that he was a bit worse in the power department.
Hoerner isn’t a guy I’ve prioritized in fantasy baseball drafts, but it’s hard to deny that he should be solid in three categories (R, SB, AVG) this season.
- FREE Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide: Top 5 Fantasy Baseball Second Basemen
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide: Fantasy Baseball Second Base Position Depth