At a time when the Orioles organization is getting constant criticism from fans questioning the Orioles’ player development operation, there is a young man at Double-A Bowie getting better right before our eyes.
LJ Hoes, the Orioles’ 21-year-old, third-round pick out of Washington’s St. John’s High School in 2008 who was signed by scout Dean Albany, is putting up impressive numbers for the team and suddenly has added some power to his game.
After hitting .241 in 41 games at Single-A Frederick, Hoes moved to Double-A Bowie in late May. After a slow start there, his bat has heated up big time and he is now batting .326 with six homers, 43 RBIs, 13 steals, a .455 slugging percentage and OPS of .844 in 64 Bowie games.
Hoes didn’t homer in his first 54 games with the Baysox, but is batting .455 with six homers and 15 RBIs over his last 10 games.
“When LJ first got here, he was having some success, even though the numbers didn’t show it,” Bowie manager Gary Kendall said. “He was hitting some balls hard. One day, (coach) Denny (Hocking) and I were talking in the office and the credit goes to Denny.
“LJ had some times in his swing where he would drift (forward) and he wouldn’t hold his ground. His foundation was a little weaker and there were different contact points. Basically, Denny worked with him and he tried some things and there was a little different elevation to his ball (off the bat).
“LJ was doing OK. He was hitting in the high .280s at the time. There was no reason to panic about a 21-year-old but this has really elevated his game and our team too.”
Yesterday, Hoes was named the Orioles’ minor league Player of the Month for July. During 29 games in the month, he hit .373 with six homers, 21 RBIs and an OPS of 1.121.
A veteran of 13 years in the major leagues, mostly with Minnesota, Hocking is in his second season as an Orioles minor league coach after spending 2010 with Frederick. He said he enjoys working with a player like Hoes that is willing to put in the time and effort to get better.
“It’s great working with a kid like LJ, he’s very attentive and wants to learn and he tries to really work on his weaknesses,” Hocking said. “He was hitting .241 at High-A (Frederick) earlier this year and he admitted he went there and he was sulking about not being in Double-A. He let it effect him and he realized you don’t have an on and off switch, but he eventually wound up here and it was kind of like him starting a new season.
“Gary and I talked about working with LJ to try and incorporate a little power. I was looking at the next six weeks, (thinking) maybe he could hit three home runs. But he picked up some things quickly and the results are all there on the stat sheet.”
Kendall said Hoes was contributing to Bowie wins even when his average was much lower and his unselfish play carried over to the rest of the team.
“When he was hitting in the low .200s, he was doing all the things to make us win, like moving runners. He had unselfish at bats like a man on second with no outs, he would take the 0-for-1 and hit that ground ball to the right side.” Kendall said.
“That had an impact on our club. This 21-year-old is going out there and playing the game the way it is supposed to be played, regardless of the batting average. It kind of spread and some other players saw you can win a ballgame with a productive out. He is an unselfish kid and a very polished young man.”
Kendall also gives Hoes credit for the work he has put in on his defense. Hoes has played mostly left field in Bowie after spending most of his earlier O’s career at second base. He still plays some in the infield and takes almost daily pregame work there as well. But he has also made strides as an outfielder.
“He appears very comfortable in left field. But we bring him into the infield every now and again to keep him sharp there, but I believe he can develop into an average major league outfielder (on defense) with an average arm and, you know, the bat is there. It could be a plus bat with some power,” Kendall added.
“To be 21, hitting in the three-hole in the Eastern League, this is a pretty good pitchers league. To see him doing what he is doing is nice to see.”
Kendall knows it was a bit of gamble to try and make some mechanical adjustments at bat with a player that already had a decent batting average.
“You don’t like to change a guy having success,” Kendall said. “He was on the Orioles’ radar. If you start tampering with a guy and he falters, there is that built-in excuse that ‘They changed me.’ But the relationship that he has with Denny, there is a trust there and he was willing to try something.
“He is making an impact here in our organization and also in the Eastern League.”
Photo by Keith Mitchell