Padres Prospect Interview: Billy Hogan

Expectations were high. Coming off a season where he hit well in a league that was termed tough for younger players, Billy Hogan thought he was on pace for record things in '04. His goal was to make the Fort Wayne team and he did – only to be sent down after not fitting the bill.

"I had a great spring training and I went to Fort Wayne with the expectations to do a lot better than I did," Hogan said. "I was humbled very quickly. In reality, to be honest, it was the best thing that ever happened to me."

Who is this?

What baseball player has ever conceded to a demotion.

On the surface his statement is bold, but Billy Hogan sticks to his convictions on the subject. He understands there is a business side to the game and he is but a cog in the proverbially wheel.

More than that he understands himself – finally.

"I had to actually become a baseball player," Hogan says introspectively. "Before I really didn't have a position where last year they had me at third base and I went into spring training playing third base and they moved me to left field. I really wasn't a good defensive player and I didn't run the bases well. Last year, basically, all I did was hit. Luckily I hit pretty well.

"This year I have had to work on all the little parts of my game and actually had to break down my swing to really have a base that can work for now and the future. It is a swing I can use against Big League pitching."

Therefore, when Hogan was first sent to Fort Wayne he was still a work in progress, despite the steady spring. In 16 games with the Wizards, Hogan batted .164 with ten hits in 61 at bats.

Besides that, Hogan was in the lineup as a designated hitter in most of the games he played. For a college shortstop who is used to the action, it was a tough spot for the right-handed hitter.

"That was tough," Hogan admits. "DH'ing, especially when it is 15 degrees out there. It was brutal. That was the worst weather I have been in, in my life."

April games in Fort Wayne still bear the chill of an October evening in Chicago. And from the reports, it could be sunny and 60 degrees or snowy and 25 degrees with wind making it feel even colder.

When the hands go numb, it is tough for a hitter to even grip the bat, much less swing it. The pitchers don't have it any easier but a hitter in a fragile state and not playing the field to keep warm is warming up with practice swings.

A batter does not want to be worrying about how cold their hands are as they step to the plate. Hogan, coincidentally makes his home in toasty Scottsdale, Arizona where winter temperatures reach a robust 73 degrees and his Texas roots make him a warm weather fan.

In the end, Hogan was shipped to extended spring training in Arizona and had to wait for the Northwest League games to start before getting his shot again. He is with the Eugene Emeralds now and started off slowly before hitting his stride.

A groove he credits to his parents.

"Actually, I started hitting well when my parents came to town," Hogan said to his laughing crowd. "I am serious.

"They came into town and I had just gotten a little hot streak here. I am still struggling but each day I am getting better. I am getting more comfortable with my swing. Hopefully things are picking up."

After a .209 June, Hogan bounced back with a .275 July to raise his average to a season high .268 on July 23. Since then he has gone into a funk but Hogan is still learning to be comfortable with his stance and adjustments that come along with being a professional ballplayer. Hogan calls it a mental phase he is suffering through and playing in the minors will continually test that side of his game.

In the past week he has been benched in favor of Ernesto Garay and has seen his plate appearances dwindle to a crawl.

The reality is – once conquered, it can be ruled again. He has faced the mental part of the game that calls to his pride before and came back with a vengeance. Hogan proved that in July and will prove it again.

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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