Welcome to Cubs Beat newsletter. All season long, I’ll be delivering news and insights on the North Siders to your inbox from the press box, clubhouse and field.
There is no denying that Nico Hoerner has proved to any and all doubters that he can handle being an everyday shortstop. His high-contact bat has remained steady this year -- with some added pop -- and his defense has ranked among the best at his position in a variety of advanced metrics.
But that will not stop the Cubs’ front office from closely examining this coming offseason’s impact class of free-agent shortstops.
“I think it's like when you want to buy a new car, but you don't have to,” Cubs manager David Ross said recently. “You can be picky, right? We've got a really good shortstop here. If something works out, where they identify a middle infielder that is a value that they feel like fits really well, I think everybody's on board with that, including myself and Nico.
“Those are good problems to have. We'll let the front office kind of pick and choose on that.”
Hoerner is 25 years old and working through what has been his first full season in the Majors, following three tours defined, respectively, by a late-season promotion, a pandemic and injuries. He has been praised for his emerging leadership skills behind the scenes and his desire to put the team ahead of his own interests.
Ross reiterated that stance in his recent chat with reporters about the possibility of targeting one of the high-end shortstops who could be up for grabs this winter. That group includes Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts, who can opt out of their current contracts, plus Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson.
“What I know about [Hoerner] is he wants to win,” Ross said. “And if something were to change, and we asked him to do anything different, whatever we want to communicate that to him, he's a winner. He wants to win and when you've got a really good player, you want as many of those guys as you can get. The willingness to move around for him is real.”
This past week, David Kaplan of NBC Sports Chicago reported that there is already “mutual” interest between the Cubs and Turner. It is a little early for free-agent rumors, but that is an early taste of what this winter could be like for the North Siders. Expect the Cubs to start being linked to players in the deep end of the free-agent pool again.
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts stopped to chat with a few media members recently at Wrigley Field and emphasized that “the ball’s in Jed’s court,” referring to how president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer can utilize the team’s payroll.
“We're starting to build that good young core,” Ricketts added. “I feel great about our team next year. I'll let Jed decide how to put resources to work to get us back on top.”
The Cubs know Hoerner could be an elite defender at second base, if he were asked to shift back to that side of the infield to accommodate a major addition. For Hoerner’s part, he has echoed Ross’ view of things when asked about the possibility of moving off shortstop, even after showing he can handle the position at a high level.
“What the Cubs do in free agency this offseason, if they make moves that are going to help us win baseball games, that’s not going to be a huge issue around here,” Hoerner said in August. “Obviously, I believe in myself as a shortstop and I’ve said that for a while, and people believe that now. But, [my focus is just to] continue on. And if we have the issue of having too many good players, then I’ll like that problem.”
THREE Q'S WITH … MATT MERVIS
This week, MLB.com caught up with Triple-A Iowa first base prospect Matt Mervis, who has pieced together one of the breakout offensive seasons in all of Minor League Baseball this year. Across three levels, the Cubs' No. 21 prospect has hit .311 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs.
MLB.com: What have you thought about the “Mash Mervis” nickname that fans have been using on social media?
Matt Mervis: I think it's pretty cool. Just looking at last year compared to this year, it never would have happened last year. And even in High-A to start the year, I feel like there wasn't as much attention. But people really started following and tweeting. … I like the nickname. I think it's cool. It's funny. But it's also a good rallying cry for the fans.
You’ve played at three levels this year. What have you thought about the level of talent in the Cubs’ system right now?
Sending three teams to the playoffs tells you a lot of what you need to know. There's a ton of talent throughout. With everybody I've played with this year, I think the quality of baseball has been pretty similar at all three levels. Obviously, lower levels, there's a few more mistakes and probably a few more walked batters by the pitchers. But at the same time, I mean, you've seen some elite defense. … Just top to bottom, from what I've seen this year, I'm really impressed and really excited about where we're headed in the future.
You still have the Arizona Fall League coming, but how much will it help to carry this type of season into your offseason training and planning for 2023?
It's a big deal to have this in my back pocket going forward. I've always felt confident that I could do something like this and this is the type of player I am. But after a tough season last year, it was more convincing myself that it's real. I proved it now. I can believe it and know that it's possible to continue doing this.
There will not be any Minor League games on Marquee Sports Network this week, but the station will have three contests from the farm system next week. Marquee will air Triple-A Iowa’s tilts against Toledo on Sept. 26 (6:38 p.m. CT), Sept. 27 (12:08 p.m.) and Sept. 28 (12:08 p.m.). Check out Marquee’s full upcoming schedule here.
"They loved to see me chasing all the fly balls, because they knew my hat, it was going to fail. And that's what they wanted: A little guy running with a big Afro. Things like that, you're never going to forget.” -- Former outfielder and fan-favorite José Cardenal, who was recently inducted into the Cubs Hall of Fame
Power-hitting prospects Matt Mervis (33 homers) and Alexander Canario (31) have each topped 30 long balls in the Minors this season. Before this year, who was the last Cubs Minor Leaguer to launch 30 or more homers down on the farm?
A.) Bryan LaHair
B.) Jake Fox
C.) Kris Bryant
D.) Javier Báez
C.) Kris Bryant
Mervis and Canario are the first Cubs prospects to enjoy a 30-homer season since Bryant slugged 43 home runs during the 2014 Minor League campaign.
Báez hit 37 in 2013, while LaHair (38 in 2011) and Fox (31 in 2008) represent the only Cubs Minor Leaguers to top 30 in the past 15 seasons.
FORWARDED FROM A FRIEND? SUBSCRIBE NOW
To subscribe to Cubs Beat, visit this page and mark "Cubs Beat" from our newsletter list. Make sure you're following the Cubs or that they're checked as your favorite team.