Published On: August 10th, 2018

In the summer of 2016, Nico Hoerner finished his freshman season at Stanford University and traveled halfway across the country to Madison, Wisconsin to play in the Northwoods League with the Madison Mallards. Hoerner was a key piece as the Mallards starting shortstop on the Mallards 2016 South Division Championship squad and his time in Madison helped shape his baseball career. Last month, Hoerner was selected with the 24th pick of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. We took time with Hoerner and Mallards Field Manager Donnie Scott to reflect on Hoerner’s summer in the Northwoods League.

Hoerner had a quick response when first asked about his memories of playing in Madison in 2016. “I loved Donnie Scott,” he said. “He taught me a lot about, not so much my swing or how to field a ground ball, more so just how to play the game of baseball every day. How to love the game, how to respect the game and how to make the most of it.”

Hoerner had high praise for the Mallards Field Manager, who is now in his sixth season as the leader of the Mallards. “I think that’s what it’s all about: attitude,” said Scott. “If you have the right mindset to go out there and play on a daily basis and compete, especially the way (Nico) did.”

Scott spent eight years in the MLB as a catcher for the Rangers, Mariners and Reds before spending nearly two decades coaching in the Reds organization. Scott lit up when talking about Hoerner. “The first thing that sticks out for him is work ethic,” he said. “I mean, this guy worked his tail off. He grinded it out every day.”

What set the then Stanford freshman apart in Scott’s eyes was the way he played the game and the attitude he brought to the field on a nightly basis. Scott explained, “His competitiveness was unreal. He never jogged down that line. He busted it all the way through that bag every time. That’s really unheard of in this day and age. And it’s paid off for him. I think that’s going to be the whole key to him having a successful Major League career is that he’s going to have the ability to do that.”

In a summer that saw Hoerner play 61 games in a stretch of two and a half months, Hoerner was experiencing a grind that will now turn out to be the rest of his baseball career. “I think every college player after their freshman year should play in the Northwoods League or as close to a league like that as they can get,” said Hoerner. “That schedule and the bus trips and the weird fan experiences at every game, all that is really close to what I’m doing now so this summer now for me doesn’t feel as different from that first year in Madison. I’m definitely lucky to have experienced that.”

During the course of the summer season, players in the Northwoods League see less than five off days. Scott explained that he recognizes the grind that the players go through but he knows he needs to push players so they receive the most out of the experience. “I saw there were days when he was laying inside of his locker, he was beat,” he said about Hoerner. “He was drained. I thought about giving him days off but I said nope, it’s not going to happen, he needs to feel this. I think in the long run, that’s what’s going to pay off for him. Because now he knows what to expect going (into professional baseball).”

By playing every day, Hoerner was able to learn and grow as a player faster than he ever had in his baseball career. After playing primarily second base at Stanford during his freshman season, Hoerner came to Madison and played every game at shortstop. “I made a bunch of errors,” Hoerner said. “I learned a lot from those mistakes. Getting to play every day without fear of those mistakes, the game started to slow down for me a little bit. I was able to carry that over and get better for my sophomore year.”

Scott referenced learning moments in his own playing career when talking about his philosophy of letting players grown by making mistakes. “That’s another thing I try to get these players to do, not look over their shoulders and wonder what I’m going to think about them,” said the Mallards Manager. “Believe me, early in my career I had plenty of passed balls and really struggled receiving. So I know how you can beat yourself up and I know there are managers out there that can be hard on guys. Those kind of guys are good to be around too but I just have a different philosophy about it and maybe that’s because I had my failures in this game. It’s really tough.”

While Hoerner was learning at shortstop, the Stanford Cardinal was raking at the plate with the Mallards. Hoerner finished the 2016 summer with a .304 batting average, collecting 78 hits through 257 at bats. Hoerner totaled 18 extra-base hits and struck out only 16 times over his 61 games played.

Hoerner carried his confidence and momentum right into his sophomore season at Stanford as he hit .307 with 33 RBI and 21 extra-base hits after hitting only .254 during his freshman campaign. Hoerner led the team and finished fifth in the Pac-12 with 77 hits and had a team-high 20 multi-hit games en route to being named to the 2017 All-Pac-12 team.

Hoerner then had another successful summer season, this time spending the 2017 summer in the Cape Cod League. By the fall of 2017, it was obvious that Hoerner was going to be a potential first round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.

“I really knew a lot less than most people would expect,” Hoerner explained. “I definitely had no idea during the season who was that high on me. I told my agent not to tell me anything because I wanted to focus on playing. I didn’t go into the year with a particular pick in mind that I wanted to go at. I wanted to have a strong year and show the player I am and then get drafted where I deserve to be.”

Hoerner carried that attitude through the spring at Stanford this year as he started 57 games and batted .345 while leading the team in runs (45), hits (80), triples (6) and stolen bases (15). Less than two years after his summer in Madison, Hoerner totaled 141 assists at shortstop while committing only nine errors. Hoerner was named All-Pac 12 for the second consecutive season and was named to the ABCA All-America second team.

On June 3, Stanford was eliminated in the NCAA regional round by Cal State Fullerton. With the 2018 MLB Draft looming the next day, Hoerner was about to take the next step in his baseball career. “Even in the days leading up to the draft I was hearing that maybe the Cubs were interested at 24th but coming into draft day there were at least 15 or 20 that I thought were pretty possible,” said Hoerner. “It made it that much more exciting.”

On the night of June 4, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred Jr. stepped to the podium and announced that the Chicago Cubs had selected Nico Hoerner with the 24thoverall pick of the 2018 MLB Draft. Hoerner became the highest Madison Mallard ever selected in the MLB Draft and was the first Stanford Cardinal to be selected in the first round since Cal Quantrill in 2016. “I was really happy with how the whole process turned out,” said Hoerner. “I was able to enjoy it with my family and teammates and best friends from home so it was a really special day.”

“Honestly it worked out just about as well as it could’ve as far as going to an organization that really wants me and values me for the right reasons,” Hoerner said about the Chicago Cubs. “I’m just happy it turned out how it did, it’s about as good as it gets.”

Hoerner joins a Chicago Cubs organization that has emerged to the top of the league in player development over the last five years. Behind the leadership of the front office regime of Theo Epstien, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, the Cubs built their farm system up with a plethora of talent and eventually snapped a 108-year championship drought with the 2016 World Series title in a seven game series against the Cleveland Indians.

The Cubs reached the pinnacle of Major League Baseball by building around key position players that were drafted by the organization. Since 2011, the Cubs first round picks have included Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ. Each of the players have developed into impact players at the MLB-level.

“That’s just really crazy for me to hear that list of players,” said Hoerner. “For me what it means is that they’re drafting really highly talented players obviously but guys that also really get it and are good teammates as well. Those are all guys that are having success at the major league level but are also having success as a winning team and that’s what it’s all about. So hopefully I have a chance to play with those guys.”

As he takes the next step in his baseball career, Hoerner is already continuing the success he has enjoyed since his 2016 summer in Madison. As of Wednesday June 11, Hoerner was promoted to the Low-A South Bend Cubs after hitting .318 with a home run through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds. The 2016 Mallards standout is already on his way up through the Chicago Cubs organization and on his way to playing in the show.


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