Q&A with Nico Hoerner: "The moves the Cubs have made have been exciting."
Cubs infielder Nico Hoerner chatted with MLB.com on Friday morning, discussing the arrival of Dansby Swanson, the Cubs' moves this winter, his offseason training and more. Here are the highlights from the Q&A.
On the Cubs adding Swanson to play shortstop, which pushes Hoerner to second base:
NH: "I mean, regardless of position and myself personally, it's just an awesome step for the organization. There had been, obviously a strong calling by everybody, really, to make make a big signing and to push forward to create the next core players that hopefully brings the next championship to Chicago and a lot of a lot of winning baseball. They're signing a player that isn't just talking about doing it, but has done it before. He won a World Series as a shortstop who's on the field absolutely every day. I mean, you just talk about playing 162 games in the middle infield, that's really impressive stuff. There's so many ways to evaluate a player in today's game, and he passes those tests well, too, but obviously it says a lot about a guy who's able to be out there that much. And that's the kind of thing that really gains respect from your peers."
On familiarity with Swanson and his career:
NH: "It ends up being a pretty small world and you hear things about guys and I've heard nothing but positive about Dansby. And just from afar, it's always it's always cool to watch a player really progress as their career goes on. He's obviously a first pick and was in the big leagues really quickly and a solid player, but to continue to build on that and reach the level he is now and I imagine his mindset is continuing to build up where he is and not putting a cap on himself. It's really admirable to see that"
On Swanson's early-career trajectory being similar to Hoerner's path, and picking Swanson's brain:
NH: "Absolutely. I mean, that stuff is important to have with all your teammates, but especially a guy you're next to all the time and sharing the field and working with. So yeah, that'll be really valuable. A lot of similarities just in going to college for three years and drafted in the first round and then always playing good defense and doing the smaller things as well.
"And then, growing into some some power hopefully and really just being an all around player. I think if you're asked either of us, it's something that we take a lot of pride in that, being able to do all phases of the game really well. When you look at him, from baserunning, to defense, to hitting and hitting for power, it's a really complete player and I think it's no coincidence he's been a part of a lot of winning."
On seeing the Cubs spend this winter:
NH: "To be honest, I don't have Twitter during the season, but I have been on it a decent amount this offseason. I felt like a fan at times, too, just following the free agency arc as a whole for baseball and for the Cubs. And it's exciting to see guys getting paid as they are and the moves the Cubs have made have been exciting. I think they've created really nice depth within the starting rotation. I think the idea of a five-man rotation is just ridiculously optimistic, right? You're gonna have a need for seven, eight guys. And some of the great teams that we've seen in the last couple of years, they have that depth. And we pitched so well down the stretch last year, so to add some strength to that is a really nice sign when it comes to getting a win total gives you a good chance to get into the postseason. Obviously, that's the first step when you haven't been there and a couple years."
On the Cubs constructing a potentially elite defense, especially up the middle:
NH: "Yeah, absolutely. I think it's exciting. And I think when you start to talk about it as a form of identity, that's exciting, too. That's definitely been lacking, just with the amount of turnover that we've had, right? You don't have an opportunity to really form one when there's been so much change in the roster, you know? That takes time. And winning is a huge part of that. But I think if it's something everyone is buying into -- not only individually, but as a group, as something you take pride in -- it just adds a little more purpose and accountability every day to your work. That's the standard. You're seeing everyone around you.
"But, the pairing of Yan and Barnhart behind the plate, guys who are so experienced and have handled staffs well. It's really exciting to watch an experienced catcher handle the staff like that, and so I'm excited to have the two of those guys. And yeah, the defense all around, it's great. (chuckles) I feel like playing at Wrigley, you need to be able to win in different ways with just given the park factors that we have. You have to be able to run and play defense, and you also have to win some games 10-8. It just asks for a lot of different things. And obviously that's true for all teams. But I do feel like that's kind of a very real thing that we deal with there."
On the Cubs' communication with him about their plans and how it could impact Hoerner:
NH: "I think it even goes back to last offseason, right? I definitely was still in the process of doing it, but hadn't fully established myself at this level. And, they were honest about that, they didn't know. The shortstop job was not mine going into last Spring Training or anything like that, either, with as much as was up in the air with rosters. You know, I got an outfielder's glove last winter, too. That was a potential part of the plan as well.
"So, the idea of things being set in stone, it's not really a real thing in this game, unless you do get to that highest level that you see these four shortstops at. So for me to have the opportunity to play short last year was amazing. It's something I've dreamed of doing at the big league level for, really, my whole life. And I'll always take pride in playing short and see myself as a shortstop in a lot of ways.
"But the Cubs have been incredibly honest throughout. And that's all you can ask for, because they're trying to make the best team that they can. And, you know, I think I'm a big part of that. And whether it was down the stretch or in end of the year meetings, or throughout the fall even, the communication from Rossy and Jed was always very clear, that there was obviously these four great shortstops on the market, and they believed in me to play that position, but they're obviously gonna do the best thing for our team to win games in the future. And I think they've done a nice job of that."
On watching the free-agent market, and shortstop market, unfold this offseason:
NH: "First of all, I was happy that a lot of the biggest stars signed so early. It's just good for the game when that does happen on the earlier end. It allows for other players to sign and get settled in. For myself, having some clarity about my role heading into January and Spring Training and really building up so that I can hit the ground running, I'm really appreciative of that, for sure.
"And then just following it, there's definitely been some shock factors this offseason, I think is fair to say. I woke up the other day, my girlfriend just said, 'Carlos Correa's on the Mets now?' I was like, 'OK.' Incredible, the deals guys are getting. I mean, there's some legendary players that have done a lot in the game, and it's awesome to see them being compensated for it."
On whether Cubs have started discussing arbitration numbers or an extension with him:
NH: "I keep that stuff more private with my agent and within the front office. We'll see what ends up happening. That stuff, I'm gonna keep that one private."
On his offseason training, which has been split between his "home base" of Chicago, the Bay Area near his family and Philadelphia, near where his girlfriend is in a PhD program:
NH: "I was just kind of bouncing around in the fall and then now I'll mainly be in Philadelphia, and then I'll head out to Arizona early at some point. But yeah, it's nice to have good resources and facilities in different places. And a big part of just the entire offseason compared to offseasons in the past is just, you know, you can train as much as you want in a practice setting, and really work hard and feel good about the stuff you're doing, but if it's not based on the game itself, it's really not worth much.
"And, I think I've done a nice job in the past of making the most of what I have experienced. But it's really nice to base it off of an entire year of playing. Mentally, physically, all the above, just of what that means. And I do feel like I have some more clarity on the things that are most important for me to work on. Just a little more peace surrounding that. You never know for sure. But it's nice to have it based on a real extended stretch of playing."
On what he is focused on in his training:
NH: "I've had offseason where I've done deep dives mechanically and really tried to take things on from that angle, or I'm just super focused on getting stronger. You kind of get on that one-track mindset sometimes. And this season for me, reflecting on it, it's just the value of being able to do all things well. I think focusing on all parts of the game and really being well rounded. And obviously there's a luck factor in staying healthy. But I think I had some really nice takeaways from the season about what what keeps me going, what keeps me energetic, being the best version of myself as I can over six months. And that's a forever process. And there's always weird things that pop up, but it's exciting to build off of that.
"I work with the Cubs strength and conditioning program in the offseason. So to get to have that dialogue with guys that were with me every day during the season is important to me, too. And so yeah, and then Dustin Kelly, the new hitting coach, I've been around him a good amount, I haven't worked with him too much, personally, but nice to start that communication. And yeah, I think that's important to to get done on the offseason a little bit just to hit the ground running and spring training. It can be pretty chaotic there."
On the Cubs' new MLB hitting department structure, with multiple assistant hitting coaches under Kelly:
NH: "We'll see how that plays out. I mean, I like the idea on paper of the player driving the process. You know, I think you can have the best information in the world, but if you don't have trust and belief in what you're doing, and feeling like you are in charge of your own path, then you're probably not going to have a whole lot of a lot of faith in it when it's just yourself in the box, you know? So if it ends up being a situation where guys are able to feel comfortable to use our endless resources to whatever they need, then that's great. We have no shortage of good minds and people around, and I think it's finding the right structure to make the most of that and have players confident in whatever they are working on. So excited to see how that works out."