One of the pleasures of this job as it relates to the minor leagues has been the chance to get to know and interview some interesting people. That includes coaches and players.
I have met many in the minors that would classify as a great interview. I can now add Bowie Baysox coach Denny Hocking to that list.
I had talked to him on the phone before but recently interviewed him in person for the first time at Prince George’s Stadium. What an enthusiastic and articulate guy that joins manager Gary Kendall, pitching coach Kennie Steenstra and coach Einar Diaz on an excellent staff for Double-A Bowie.
Hocking played 13 seasons in the majors with the Twins, Rockies and Royals. He got to know Andy MacPhail when MacPhail was Twins general manager and that connection led him to the Orioles organization. He coached at Single-A Frederick last year in his first season as a pro coach.
Rowell hit .305 with an .809 OPS after the All-Star break last season in Frederick and gave you some of the credit for his improvement. What did you find when you coached Rowell?
“You know what I was able to find? He’s very coachable and that wasn’t the information I had gathered from people in the organization. He was a guy that maybe wanted to do it his own way.
“I got across to Billy and Billy trusted me. That was the biggest thing. He was able to finally understand that someone trusted him and wanted him to do better because they wanted him to do better - not because it was to make them look good. I could care less about how it makes me look. I am here to make big league hitters, that’s what the Orioles pay me for, and not here to make friendships.”
Fans have gotten on Rowell and some say he was a first-round bust. Some fans have given up on him. What are your thoughts on that?
“People need to look at his age, not his numbers. The problem for Billy is that he will always be compared to the guy that was taken right after him and has already had a successful career for San Francisco (pitcher Tim Lincecum).
“That being said, we will try to build this year on what Billy did last year. I’ll tell you right now, if Billy stays short (with his swing) and he goes up to the plate with a plan and executes it, he will put up some good numbers this year and I truly believe that.
“I think it is great for him to be on a different team. Playing in Frederick again and again and again, he just decided to get stale and all that. I think a change of scenery for him is going to do him great.”
Did Rowell remain coachable this spring?
“Absolutely. I had a conversation with Billy this winter. He said he was ready and raring to go. He had an at-bat (this spring) against Andrew Miller, tall lefty and former first-rounder. He was 2-0 and the pitching coach went to the mound.
“I told him, ‘Billy, be short, that’s all I want you to do. Be short and be quick.’ He got a fastball, wound up hitting it to left-center for a home run. He came back to the dugout and said, ‘That’s all you.’
“It’s not all me. The only thing I can do as a coach is provide you information and try to give you confidence. You are the one that has to go out there and do it.”
What is the next thing to come or improve in Joe Mahoney’s game?
“Consistency. That’s the biggest thing for Joe. The sky is the limit for Joe Mahoney. Look at last year, the award that he won as Player of the Year speaks for itself.
“That being said, Joe is not a short-term guy. He’s a long-term guy. He’s looking to get to the big leagues as quickly as possible. He’s got that work ethic, he has that drive. He’s a great kid and made a huge impression on the big league staff in big league camp.
“He’s going to have a great year this year. My biggest thing for Joe is getting consistent. He’s got some flaws in his swing that I will constantly be on him about. But I’ll tell you what, it’s nice to see a guy walking to the plate with his frame, his size and his potential. I’m glad he is on our team.”
Can Mahoney continue to add more power to his game?
“Absolutely. The normal fan will look at the numbers he put up. But I think he underachieved last year and I told him that. I think he can hit for a higher average with more homers and doubles and drive in more runs. If you go back and look at the execution of it, he can probably improve on that. I will hold Joe to a high standard, just like I will with a lot of these guys.
“That’s because I know they can do it. That’s what the Orioles are looking for up there: guys that are one injury away or one trade away from helping them at the major league level. That’s my job, to get potential out of them.”
At the same time, Mahoney hasn’t made any of the so-called experts’ top 100 prospects lists. Is that a concern?
“Joe could really care less what people think about him. The outside world that doesn’t have a chance to be around him every day, he really doesn’t care what they think or what they know.
“He has great relationships inside that lockerroom. He’s going to go out there and do what is best for the Baltimore Orioles, then the Bowie Baysox, then for Joe Mahoney. When you have those priorities set in that fashion, things are going to be good for you.”