Nothing can come close to matching best-shape-of-his-life discourse when it comes to washed spring training tropes, but waxing ecstatic about minute mechanical changes is probably a distant second. There are, however, plenty of cases in which the changes in question are being made for very good reason. So since I’ve already written about Anthony Rizzo‘s fitness, it was only natural that I pivot to Nico Hoerner‘s swing.
Regular readers probably think I’ve got something against the young second baseman, seeing as how I’m constantly talking about giving him more time to develop in the minors. The truth is that it’s precisely my faith in his talent that tells me he should be allowed to achieve the fullness of his athletic potential, though the Cubs seem to believe he can do exactly that in Chicago.
Part of that may stem from the presence of assistant hitting coach Chris Valaika, who had previously been the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator. He was instrumental in the swing changes Ian Happ toiled through at Triple-A Iowa in 2019 but he’ll be in Chicago this season and has already been working with Hoerner on a swing adjustment.
“We looked at this past year and years before it and times that I’ve had success and times I’ve struggled, and just looking at it in kind of a broader lens,” Hoerner explained on Marquee’s Cubs 360. “And what was nice working with him is it was always a two-way street, a great conversation, and had some help from the analytics side for sure too. Really nice working with someone where it’s a constant dialogue and not just direction one way or another.
“Yeah, a little more open with the stance. I’d say just the biggest theme is being more athletic, using my athleticism. Being a dangerous, dynamic player and giving myself a chance to drive the ball every chance I can.”
Nico Hoerner prepares a swing, David Bote looks on and Willson Contreras readies for a pitch from Adbert Alzolay's live BP session in Mesa today. pic.twitter.com/nJhG5kpF4S
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) February 22, 2021
While not easy to discern from the image above, it does appear as though Hoerner is indeed bringing his foot in as he strides. Whether I can actually see that or it’s just current information feeding my perception matters not, the truth is the same either way. Hoerner looks to have bulked up a little bit, thereby crossing the trope streams, but he’s always been strong had room to fill out a bit more.
When done properly, opening a hitter’s stance up should allow them to create a little momentum and generate more power. Though Hoerner didn’t display much pop in college, the Cubs believed he had untapped reserves that could be reached with some small changes and sought to do just that after he was drafted.
The adjustments paid off as Hoerner hit three home runs in his first 154 professional plate appearances across multiple levels and leagues, one more dinger than he’d racked up in three years at Stanford. He then hit three more in 294 PAs for Double-A Tennessee and another three in just 82 trips to the plate with the Cubs. It was as though he got better as he advanced.
But 2020 saw him hit no homers with just four total extra base hits, all doubles, as he posted a 0.037 ISO that stood second-worst in MLB. Even allowing for a little leeway due to the circumstances of the season, that’s pretty ugly. So Hoerner got to work on ensuring it wouldn’t happen again regardless of where he plays this season.
‘‘I’m in a great position in that if I control my end of it, if I’m ready every day and I’m playing at a high level, I’m gonna have an opportunity,’’ Hoerner said. ‘‘I don’t know exactly what that looks like. But as a young player on a team that’s looking to win, that’s a pretty awesome thing to have.’’
I don’t have much else to offer here and I maintain that Triple-A Iowa is the best spot for Hoerner and the Cubs alike, but I do think this small change to his swing will yield solid results.
Ed. note: A lot of people seem to be concerned that the Cubs are trying to make Hoerner a power hitter at the expense of contact, but that is not the case. They are simply trying to help him take better advantage of his natural strength and athleticism, which simply means hitting the ball with more authority.