By JAY LeBLANC
Major League teams are scouring the globe for talent like never before, but every now and then they still find what they’re looking for right in their own backyard. That’s certainly the case with the Baltimore Orioles and L.J. Hoes, a lifelong O’s fan who was born in Bowie, Md., and starred at St. John’s High School in Washington, D.C. When what was perceived as a strong commitment to North Carolina scared off some teams and caused Hoes to fall to the third round of the 2008 draft, Baltimore scooped him up and persuaded him to sign for a $490,000 bonus.
The Orioles were confident that Hoes would quickly adjust to pro pitching and he did, hitting .308 with a home run and 18 RBI in 48 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last summer. He also stole 10 bases and displayed an advanced approach at the plate by walking more often (30) than he struck out (22). Defense, however, is a different story. Hoes was a pitcher and outfielder in high school but the Orioles are developing him as a second baseman. He has impressed club officials with his work ethic while learning the position, but the 15 errors he made in his relatively brief pro debut indicate there’s still a long road ahead.
Hoes’ strong showing in the Gulf Coast League earned him the distinction of being ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the Orioles organization by Baseball America this past offseason. It also prompted the O’s to have him skip short-season Class A and begin his first full pro season with the Class A Delvarva Shorebirds of the South Atlantic League. Hoes is off to a good start with the Shorebirds, hitting .286 with a pair of doubles and as many RBI in 21 at bats, though he has committed two errors in the field. I had a chance to speak with the 19-year-old Monday night after his team’s 2-1 road win over the Washington Nationals-affiliated Hagerstown Suns:
Q: What was your mindset heading into the 2008 draft? Some teams shied away from you because of what was perceived as a strong commitment to North Carolina.
A: It’s always been my dream to play professional baseball, and going into the draft, that’s all I wanted to do. If the right opportunity came along then I was going to go ahead and proceed with playing professional baseball. And the right opportunity came along, so I went ahead and did it.
Q: You were born in Bowie, Md., and attended high school in Washington, D.C. Were you an Orioles fan growing up?
A: I’ve been an Orioles fan ever since I was born. I used to go to their games at Memorial Stadium when I was one or two years old, and after they moved to Camden Yards I used to go to their games a lot. I still go to their games now, when we’re not playing.
Q: Was that a factor in your decision to sign?
A: Actually it helped make my decision a lot easier because I’d be closer to home and my family would get to come see me play. I mean, Hagerstown is probably about 45 minutes to an hour away from my house. That had a big part in my decision. Growing up I was an Orioles fan and I always wanted to play for the Orioles, so when the opportunity came along, I was ready to jump at it.
Q: You were an outfielder and pitcher in high school, but you’re playing second base now. How is the transition going?
A: It’s going really good. I did a lot of offseason work with it and then in spring training I did a lot of work both before and after we had games - early in the morning I’d be out there, and I’d stay late in the afternoon doing the second base work. I’m still working at it - as you could see tonight, I had a bad throw - but I’ll be fine in a couple years.
Q: Do you step up to the plate with a plan, or do you just trust your reactions?
A: I go up there with a plan. Anything I do, I go up there with a plan, whether it’s schoolwork, homework, if I’m going somewhere - I have a mindset about what I want to do, what my goal is for that at bat. Every at bat, my goal is to hit the ball hard. I see what the pitcher is doing with other guys and I try to apply that to my at bat.
Q: What are some of your goals for your first full pro season?
A: I’m just ready to get at it, just take it as it goes and do what I can do best. Getting a Sally League championship is my main goal. Just to go out there and have fun is one of my other goals. Everything else is a bonus. This being my first pro season, I really don’t know what to expect, so I’m just taking it in stride.
Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model yourself after?
A: I like to watch Derek Jeter, Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, B.J. Upton … those are some of the guys I like to watch. Those are real athletic guys with real good bats, and Hanley Ramirez is an excellent, standout shortstop, and Derek Jeter has been an All-Star shortstop for a long, long, long time. Derek Jeter‘s real clutch. I kind of model myself after Derek Jeter - I want to be like him and hopefully make it to the major leagues and have a career like he’s having.
Q: When it’s all said and done, do you think you’ll be a table-setter or a middle-of-the-order guy?
A: It depends. It depends on how I grow into my body. I could do either or - I could be a table-setter or I could be a power hitter. It all depends on how I develop over the next couple years.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2009: Jack McGeary, Nationals
2008: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.