The “Swing & Offense” section of this post was written by Steve Carter, the swing analyst for Project Prospect. You can see more of his work by visiting his profile page on Project Prospect’s website.
After a rough season for Delmarva in 2010, L.J. Hoes is off to a hot start for the Frederick Keys, showing improvement in almost every aspect of his game, particularly plate discipline and overall defense. Steve has spent time breaking down, and examining Hoes’ swing, and I’ve watched L.J. play on four separate occasions this season.
Both Steve and I see some things to like about Hoes as a player. Solid underlying swing mechanics, athleticism and improving defense is exactly what you want to see from a player who’s just turned twenty. But what kind of adjustments does Hoes need to make to take his game to the next level?
Swing & Offense
L.J. Hoes is the definition of a momentum hitter. He starts with the majority of his weight on his front leg, then sways back while lifting and tapping his front foot to reset his balance before he finishes with a very soft stride forward. A stride that could basically be called more of a “glide” forward into his foot plant. All of this is very smooth and rhythmic, with no herky-jerky or hard actions, but it does go a long way toward explaining the 60%+ ground ball rate Hoes has posted at both Delmarva and Frederick.
The reasoning for all the swaying and gliding that Hoes exhibits in his swing is to not only be smooth and calm in his actions, but it’s also to build up as much momentum as he can and use that to his advantage. At the same time, Hoes’ reliance on pure momentum has subtracted from both his hand actions as well as his ability to get his upper and lower half separated. Hoes has a very small, almost non-existent, load with his hands and doesn’t activate them until he decides to launch his swing forward. This keeps his hands short and direct, but the lack of a negative hand movement takes away the ability to stretch his upper body and let his hips get ahead of his hands — the separation I alluded to earlier. Once Hoes’ front foot plants and becomes anchored, he turns his hips and his hands as one singular unit, which keeps him direct and quick, but doesn’t allow him to create the energy that he would be capable of if he had his hips leading his hands which creates the bat speed and energy explosion that every great hitter has.
Because of Hoes’ small load and late hand action, his barrel isn’t up to speed on time to turn the ball around with full authority. This is partly to blame for his high ground ball rates. Because his hands are reacting to his body’s forward turning and not working with his body’s forward turning, his hands don’t have a goal in mind. They just turn forward, basically “along for the ride”. Hoes doesn’t give himself a chance to manipulate his barrel by releasing his barrel forcefully into the bottom half of the baseball which would give him some lift. Instead, his barrel really just “runs” into the ball and redirects it, rather than driving it with a purpose.
Hoes’ game is not built around power, rather based on contact ability and speed. But he has a strong frame and good quick twitch athleticism, so he should be able to hit for more power than he has showed thus far in his minor league career. He would be able to hit for more power with a slightly larger load of his upper body and/or getting his upper and lower halves separated. Hoes is very erect in his set up, which doesn’t allow him much in the way of leverage. Since he’s a speed guy and getting out of the box quickly is a plus for his game, he can get away with this. But if you don’t have leverage, you need separation to hit for power, which Hoes doesn’t have in his swing either.
There isn’t a ton of video of Hoes available, but in the videos you can find on the internet, one common thing keeps jumping out to you, and that is Hoes getting beat by fastballs. He does an excellent job of letting the ball get deep into the strike zone — helped by his smooth stride and forward movement and helping explain his very good walk rate in 2010 — but since he activates his hands late, Hoes barrel is not up to full speed in time. His barrel reaches max velocity after contact, whereas great hitters have their barrel at max velocity slightly before to right at contact. This late hand and barrel action take away from his ability to drive the ball with authority. The ball ends up beating his bat to the contact point, instead of the bat beating the ball there.
Hoes is still young and has the groundwork for a decent swing down the road. He’s able to get decent bat speed without a super long swing or a gimmicky action that would subtract from other areas of his swing, which says a lot about what is body is capable of. Despite getting to his front leg too soon, he’s shown the ability to still let the ball get deep and post a very good walk rate at the High-A level. But maximum efficiency and energy production still eludes Hoes at the plate. Should he learn how to get a better load and stretch his upper body while allowing his hips to get started earlier, his power production would go up quickly. If he can keep his swing short like it already is while giving his hands a new goal of manipulating the barrel as a means to drive the baseball, his ground ball rate would go down very quickly. Hoes still needs some work and has a long ways to go, but his solid underlying fundamentals and athleticism do bode well for what the future could hold for him.
A gifted athlete, Hoes spent most of his high school career playing in the outfield. However, Hoes’ bat profiled better at second base and the Orioles decided to stick him there immediately after he was drafted. It’s clear Hoes is still adjusting to the position, with 15 errors in 2008 during his time in the GCL and 28 errors in 2009 in the South Atlantic League. Hoes has struggled initially on defense, but he’s athletic enough to man the position and could end up as above average defensively in the future. He’s already showing improvements this season, with only 3 errors in 78 attempts, good for a .978 fielding percentage. Like I said before, it’s important to remember Hoes is only in his third year playing second base. He’s still extremely raw and has a long way to go both offensively and defensively.
During my time at spring training I was able to get up close to the players, listen to the coaches speaking to the players and even speak to most of the players at camp myself. Bobby Dickerson, the Orioles’ minor league infield coordinator, had numerous one-on-ones with Hoes focusing on turning double plays and glove work (pictured above). Hoes would practice turning double plays and take grounders, with Dickerson closely watching. Coming off the field, Hoes would go directly to Dickerson for advice and tips on how to improve his motions, footwork and glove work.
His above-average arm strength and range would allow him to play almost anywhere in the field, including third base, but his bat just doesn’t fit at any other position. He tracks the ball well and his athleticism plays extremely well in the field. Hoes has all the tools necessary to become above-average defensively, but sometimes it’s quite obvious just how raw he is defensively. I still question Hoes’ instincts in the field, specifically while turning double plays. It’s his decisions or indecision that can really hurt him. He’ll field a double play ball, unsure of what to do with it, turning to second to check the runner, but ultimately throwing over to first base. As he gets more reps at the position his instincts and decision making should improve.
If Hoes can add any power whatsoever to his excellent plate discipline and improve what is already outstanding contact skills, we are looking at the Orioles’ replacement for the declining Brian Roberts. As Steve said, if he can get a better load and get his hips started earlier, the power will come. If Hoes continues to develop, finishes 2010 strong, adds some pop, and builds on this season, you’ll see ‘Hoes’ on the back of a jersey in Baltimore sometime in 2012, maybe sooner.
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