L.J. Hoes: More Than The Numbers

L.J. Hoes grew up an Orioles fan and now he has a chance to grow in the Orioles organization. At just 19 years old this has been a tough season, numbers wise, for the kid, but he and his coaches see improvement. Playing against older kids is nothing new to Hoes, inside he dishes on his 2009 season.

At 19 years old, L.J. Hoes is starting to wrap up his first full professional season in the Orioles system. After debuting in the Gulf Coast League in 2008, Hoes showed enough to put him in the South Atlantic League with the single-A Shorebirds. Playing in over 100 games has been a tough task for the young second baseman.

"It's been a long year," Hoes said. "It's been a big change coming from a high school season, playing 30-35 games. It's tough for me, playing every day, playing just two or three days a week in high school, getting used to wood bats, it's a big adjustment."

It has been a tough adjustment too. Hoes feels like he has been improving despite his numbers not showing it. He is hitting just .250/.289/.302 and his .591 on-base plus slugging percentage shows he has room for improvement. In 2008 he hit .308/.416/.390 and walked 30 times compared to 22 strikeouts. While Hoes has only struck out 70 times in 368 at-bats (less than 20 percent of the time), he has only walked 19 times.

"He doesn't necessarily have to lock himself up and look away, away, away," Shorebirds hitting instructor Ryan Minor said. "We've been really working on trying to get him to pull the ball with a little more back spin, with little more authority. He's done a really good job with that. He's not just up there trying to hit the ball to right field, right-center anymore, he's using all fields.

"He's hitting a lot of balls hard. His numbers might not show that at times, but our main goal is to make sure these guys put the ball in play and hit the ball hard and so far he's done a pretty good job of doing that."

Hoes also talked about how hitting in pro ball is a completely different game than it was in high school.

"In high school you just go up there and swing and get a hit and then you come out here and you got to think what guys are going to do, how they are going to set you up," Hoes explained.

This is also not the first time that Hoes is facing competition that is beyond his years. After his junior season in high school, Hoes played in the Ripken summer league against mostly collegiate players.

"It was a good experience for me. It was the first time I really struggled a little bit coming out, but once I got hot with the wooden bat, against better competition, it really helped me out with my improvement. Coming out here, being a little more advanced because I've been using the wood bats and playing against better competition."

Hoes also noticed one thing that the older kids had on him and identified it as something he needed to improve on.

"They were a lot bigger and stronger than I was and I needed to get stronger," Hoes said. "My contact with the ball was up to par with them, but I just need to get bigger and stronger so the balls they were hitting were getting through and because I was so weak, I wasn't getting extra hits like they were getting."

While expectations are high on Hoes' offense, he needs to improve a lot on his defense as well. A converted outfielder and pitcher, Hoes has been learning second base. He committed 15 errors in 42 games last year but just 22 in 93 games in the field this year. He has also raised his fielding percentage from .930 to .942. That still needs to improve, but he still has time to improve. Shorebirds manager Orlando Gomez said he felt Hoes does not feel "comfortable" at second base yet.

"I'm out there every day taking ground balls, trying to turn double plays," Hoes said. "Earlier in the year I used to get scared when guys were coming in and sliding at my feet trying to take me out. It looks like they are putting a lot of time on me and I'm getting better."

Hoes has a long way to go before he gets to the Orioles, but at least, for him, he gets to do it in his own back yard. He played his high school baseball in Washington, D.C., and grew up an Orioles fan.

"It's great to be at home, to be with my family," Hoes said. "I get to go home sometimes when we have early games and get to spend time at home so my family gets to show me a lot of support."

Hoes also admitted that being a local talent can also make it tougher for him.

"The expectations are so much higher for me being a local kid, am I going to live up to my expectations? I put added pressure on myself to try to succeed, so it's actually tougher."

While he is still just 19 and is still very raw as a baseball talent, flashes of what to expect are shown in his game. While it may not reflect in his numbers, yet, his manager likes what he sees.

"He has some talent and he can do a lot of things with the bat," Gomez said.

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