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NextImg:‘They just haven’t been watching’: Nico Hoerner’s teammates make his All-Star case

NEW YORK – The question of what Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner has left to show to a wider Major League Baseball audience seems silly to first baseman Jared Young. 

“Maybe they just haven’t been watching,” said Young, who was roommates with Hoerner back in Double-A, “because I think he’s pretty incredible.”

This time of year, All-Star talk becomes a staple. Who was snubbed? Who’s getting well-deserved recognition? Which pitchers will get the start? 

Three Cubs were selected as All-Stars – lefty Justin Steele, right-hander Marcus Stroman and shortstop Dansby Swanson –  but only Steele is set to play the game in Seattle. Even as congratulations were going around for the trio this week, Hoerner’s name was on his teammates’ lips.

“Just the plays he makes, how he battles, his clutch timely hitting, seems like he’s always doing something each and every game to shift the momentum of the game,” Stroman said. “I feel like he’s easily an All-Star.”

The All-Star Game gathers some of the best players in the game together, but it’s also inherently a popularity contest. The showcase leans on fans to name starters, player votes to choose most of the pitchers reserves, and MLB selections to fill out the rosters. Hoerner didn’t make the top 10 in Phase 1 of fan voting. 

It couldn’t have helped Hoerner’s notoriety that his development into one of the Cubs’ core position players came as the team went into a rebuild and faded from the public view. 

For the analytically inclined, some common offensive measurements don’t make the strongest case – he’s 10th among National League second basemen in wRC+ (92), for example. But entering Saturday, he also had the second-best batting average with runners in scoring position (.333), behind only All-Star Luis Arráez.

Hoerner leads the group in stolen bases (20). And he’s outpacing his competition in defensive metrics, comfortably leading NL second basemen in outs above average (7) and defensive WAR (7.0), according to FanGraphs.

His teammates see an undervalued player. 

“He’s the guy that just cares about what the scoreboard says at the end of the day, and so whatever is asked of him to make that happen he’s going to do,” Swanson said. “And guys like that just tend to not get as much credit. But we definitely love having him here, and he’s a huge part of this group.”

Look at the Cubs’ 6-3 loss to the Yankees on Saturday for contributions that aren’t highlighted in the box score. Hoerner, who has the second-highest WAR (2.1) among Cubs position players, didn’t record a hit. But he drove in the team’s first run by grounding out to the right side of the field against Yankees All-Star Gerrit Cole.

He also played shortstop with Swanson on the IL (bruised left heel). And he made a sliding catch on an Anthony Rizzo line drive to end the seventh inning.

“The more you watch him, the better you think he is,” Young said. “That’s one of the things that maybe the league’s realizing.”

First baseman Trey Mancini, who has spent most of his career in the AL, admits that before he joined the Cubs this year, he didn’t know much about Hoerner. Hoerner made a quick impression.

“One of the most impressive guys I’ve ever played with,” Mancini said in April. “He is wise beyond his years.”

Said third baseman Patrick Wisdom: “Whether it’s making a sick play, whether it’s coming up clutch, whether it’s taking advantage of a base – whatever it is, he’s doing something in the game that’s impactful and makes you go, ‘Dang, he’s a good player,’”  third baseman Patrick Wisdom said. “So, I think he should be in the All-Star Game, 100,000%.” 

What does Hoerner think?

“I would love to be an All-Star,” he said this week. “Whether it’s this year or in the future. And nice to continue to have that as something to achieve in my career. But obviously you want to have the support of the people in your own locker room first and foremost, and it’s awesome to have guys speak on my behalf.”