A lifetime Orioles fan, Hoes living the dream
Outfield prospect boasts sound mechanics, ability to hit for average
Imagine growing up an avid baseball fan, following your favorite team enthusiastically and being selected by that club to play Major League baseball. Could anything be more exciting?
That has to be among every young man's dream. It rarely becomes reality.
That actually happened to L.J. Hoes, an enthusiastic Baltimore Orioles fan who grew up living and going to high school in the Washington, D.C., area.
Hoes probably has to pinch himself every now and again to confirm he's really part of the O's organization. But it's true. No pinching necessary.
Hoes went to St. John's College High School in Washington, D.C. He played center field and pitched in a very competitive environment.
Hoes planned to attend the University of North Carolina. Then the 2008 First-Year Player Draft changed his life. In the third round, the Baltimore Orioles selected Hoes as a potential second baseman.
At 6-foot-0 and 200 pounds, the O's felt Hoes projected best as an infielder. He is athletic and strong, and physically does fit the model of a good hitting, quick second baseman.
During Hoes' first three years and for part of his fourth in the Orioles' system, he did indeed play second base. At age 22, and in the 2011 season, O's management decided to move him to the outfield. In essence, the team felt Hoes would be more natural, more comfortable and better able to concentrate on his hitting ability with a change in his defensive role.
In his career to date, Hoes has always shown an ability to hit. His batting averages have fluctuated a bit, but his contact rate has always been the centerpiece of his offensive mechanics. Hoes puts the bat on the ball, walks quite a bit, and has enough usable speed to assist his club with good baserunning and an ability to steal bases.
My first opportunity to scout Hoes came in the 2012 Arizona Fall League. He was assigned as part of the Orioles' contingent to the Mesa Solar Sox. Hoes hit .257 in 19 games, covering 70 at-bats.
Defensively, Hoes played exclusively in the outfield last fall. Most of his games were in right field, with two in left. Hoes did not play center field. He was also a designated hitter on several occasions.
Hoes showed a short, compact swing with very little movement prior to the pitch. His trunk and arms were still, even as the pitch approached, limiting the torque and thrust he could get with his swing. In fact, Hoes allowed his hands and wrists to do most of the work, reducing his power.
While his hands were quick enough but through the ball, it was Hoes' pitch selectivity and pitch recognition that were impressive features of his at-bats. He allowed the pitch to travel deep in the zone, resulting in an ability to hit the ball to all fields. And Hoes earned walks as well.
I was struck, however, with Hoes' hitting success against left-handed pitching. A right-handed hitter, Hoes hit .318 vs. lefties and .229 against righties.
I saw Hoes again recently when his Norfolk Triple-A club was visiting the Durham Bulls of the Tampa Bay organization.
Once again, I saw Hoes use a very measured swing at the plate, making consistent contact. He has struck out only 15 times in 123 plate appearances so far this season. That's a statistic that underscores a very important part of Hoes' future: He can be counted upon to put the ball in play and potentially make something happen.
This year to date, Hoes has a very fine .294 batting average. Of his 32 hits, he has one home run and nine doubles. Hoes has stolen three bases. He has played left and right fields, as well as serving as a designated hitter.
Hoes doesn't have one overwhelming tool or skill to carry him to the big leagues. Rather, he is the type of player who will make the most of average to above-average ability on a steady, consistent basis. I do not project Hoes to have much fluctuation in hitting results.
Because his mechanics are sound, I don't think Hoes will have prolonged hitting slumps. That's a very positive factor in a lineup.
Hoes has very quick feet and raw speed that could pose difficulty for the opposing pitchers/catchers and defenses. He can force errors by using that speed to try and steal bases even more frequently than in his career to date.
Defensively, Hoes has an average throwing arm with adequate strength and carry on the ball. He takes good routes when he reads the ball well off the bat. In Arizona, Hoes got some late jumps. That may have been the result of the impact of high and bright afternoon skies.
I'm not as certain Hoes profiles as a corner outfielder. If he were to continue to play either left or right field at the Major League level, I'd like to see more power. Hoes' swing and his fairly complete body maturity indicate, "What we see, is what we'll get." I think he might be best used in center field, where power is not an expectation. However, that is not where Hoes has been playing as a professional. Ultimately, he may be best used as a swing man in the outfield, playing wherever needed as a fourth-outfielder type. Hoes has enough speed to play anywhere in the outfield, including center field. Or maybe back at second base.
The Orioles gave Hoes a brief opportunity to play on the parent club during a September callup last season. He played in only two games and batted once. Another opportunity waits.
Ranked as the sixth overall Orioles prospect, Hoes will likely have an opportunity to use his contact hitting and good speed to help the O's outfield situation in the near future. He's living a dream.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoffon Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.