Cubs call up top prospect Nico Hoerner after rash of injuries

Tony Andracki
NBC Sports Chicago

Amid a rash of injuries, the Cubs are promoting top prospect Nico Hoerner to the big leagues.

Hoerner is in Monday's starting lineup against the Padres, hitting sixth and playing shortstop. To make room for him on the 40-man roster, the Cubs designated lefty reliever Randy Rosario for assignment.

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Over the weekend, the Cubs discovered Javy Baez's thumb injury was more sinister than initially thought (a hairline fracture), meaning he will be out for the next few weeks and possibly the remainder of the season.

Then Kris Bryant was forced out of Sunday's lineup with his right knee issue acting up again, a problem that has been plaguing him since at least late-July. Sunday was the second game in a week the former MVP could not suit up.

On top of all that, backup shortstop Addison Russell was hit in the face with a 94 mph fastball in the third inning of Sunday's game. After being down for a few minutes, he eventually stayed in the game, stole second on the next pitch and scored three pitches later on a David Bote single. But the Cubs then pulled Russell from the game, citing a nasal contusion and evaluating him for a concussion. 

As of the Sunday evening, when the team took off from Milwaukee to San Diego, there was no update on Russell's status and how much time he is expected to miss following the scary head injury.

All this results in a shockingly thin depth chart for the Cubs on the left side of the infield, particularly at shortstop. Bote is already the team's third-string option at the most important defensive position on the field and he finished Sunday's game at shortstop after Russell's injury.

Hoerner has not yet played a game above Double-A, but it's all hands on deck now for a Cubs team that has slipped to 4.5 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central and is clinging to just a 1.5-game lead for the final playoff spot (the second Wild Card). 

The 22-year-old Hoerner played 70 games for Double-A Tennessee this season, hitting .284 with a .344 on-base percentage and .399 slugging percentage (.743 OPS). He hit just 3 homers, but he struck out only 31 times in 294 at-bats and made 40 starts at shortstop while also seeing time at second base and center field.

Hoerner is the Cubs' consensus top prospect and was the organization's top draft pick in 2018 (24th overall) out of Stanford.

The Cubs would have to clear room on the 40-man roster for Hoerner. They've already designated outfielder Mark Zagunis and catcher Taylor Davis for assignment over the last couple weeks to create room on the 40-man roster for Ben Zobrist (Aug. 30) and Danny Hultzen (Sept. 7). 

It remains to be seen how much playing time Hoerner will see with a team fighting for its playoff life with only 20 games left in the regular season. But before he suffered a wrist injury that cost him more than two months, Hoerner was on the fast track and has impressed those within the organization with his polished approach, versatility and intangibles

When Cubs vice president of amateur scouting and player development Jason McLeod joined the Cubs Talk Podcast in July, he tabbed Hoerner as the safest prospect in the system:

"Even with the injury that cost him two months of this year, seeing everything that he brings to the table - the athleticism, the physicality, the work ethic, the makeup, the game intelligence, the instincts, the way he barrels the ball up, the high contact rate, the middle of the field athlete, dynamic-type defender out in the field," McLeod said. "Yeah, if I was a betting man, I'd put my money on him and I'd say that it'd be a pretty safe bet."

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Cubs call up top prospect Nico Hoerner after rash of injuries originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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