22 year old L.J. Hoes has been one of the most pleasant surprises for the Orioles in 2012. After starting the year off at AA Bowie, Hoes forced his way to AAA Norfolk. From there, he has caught fire after an initial struggle.
I have had the privilege of watching Hoes over the years, even dating before his days with the Orioles. Therefore, I have built a strong understanding of his game, both with the glove and bat. Below are some observations and analysis on Hoes from this season and on his potential in the future.
Hoes has a solid frame and good quick-twitch athleticism. He looks like a ballplayer on and off the field. He stands around 6′ 1″, and weighs just south of 200. I simply do not see much more growth coming from him at this time. While he could always tack on another 15-20 lbs to try and gain some power in his game, I simply see this as more of a hindrance. His game relies more on contact and speed, thus making his current build acceptable. What is seen with Hoes right now, could very well be his ceiling in terms of body growth.
Swing & Offense
Hoes has not changed much in this aspect of the game. He is and always will be a contact guy. While his bat speed is probably not on the same level as Jonathan Schoop, it is above-average. He has solid fast-twitch muscles which allow him to quickly catch up on some pitches, and sometimes he shoots balls opposite field when he is late due to this. His swing is compact and this affects two things:
- It allows him to easy his swing, meaning there is much less violence in the motion.
- Since he has a short load, his contact-swing essentially saps majority of the power from his game.
On that note, Hoes is not a power hitter and probably never will be a guy hitting 15-20 homers in the bigs. I just do not see it. Two years ago it looked like he could potentially muster enough strength and maybe tweak his approach to offer more power. However, at this rate I think he’s a pure contact guy, and am not sure he truly ever becomes the big impact bat.
If the Orioles really wanted to, they could increase the load on his foot and maybe it could provide some more pop, but that also would negate some of his quickness through the zone, and mostly likely hurt his contact and average. I would not recommend that, as his game seems to be working just fine at AAA Norfolk right now. For all the stat junkies out there, Hoes has never had an ISO over .123 in any league he has more than 100 plate appearances.
Hoes still shows many of the same tendencies shown in this old scouting report. He still hits a ton of ground balls, and still is late at times because his bat head is not quite catching up to over-powering fastballs.The ground balls are not a huge deal to me, as Hoes shows a real niche for poking the ball through the 1B/2B hole. In fact I’ve probably seen him do this at least 15 times this year. Hoes also can rack up some walks.
The plate discipline from this 22 year old in AAA in astounding. He rarely goes down early in counts, and more often than not I have been more impressed with his discipline in the upper minors than that of other veterans whom have been around the block.
Sometimes Hoes can be a little too selective at the plate, and I’ve seen a number of times he lays off the low pitch and gets burned. However, he is one to lay off junk low and away, and doesn’t chase as many “bad” pitches than others his age. His BB% and K% in the minors are solid, while not spectacular. I think he can grow in this manner more. It would not be surprising to see him actually take a little more walks down the road.
Overall, Hoes shows a solid contact game with minimal power. His bat could potentially be ready for the big leagues, although there are other facets of his game clearly lacking.
Second base is not going to be an option with Hoes. I’ve watched him play there before, and he simply does not play the position well. The Orioles realized this last year when they moved him off the base and back into the OF.
It’s a little odd because Hoes is an athletic player, but he does not make good reads there and often gets eaten up on hoppers and fast grounders. It’s not correct to say he is a brick there, but something just doesn’t look right. I’m absolutely not comparing the two, but it reminds me of how Ty Wigginton looked while playing second. It’s a little disappointing because he has the prototypical bat for the position, but Hoes still offers value in other locations.
Hoes in Center Field is another intriguing area. While he has the athleticism to play there, it’s been an up-and-down trial for him. I’ve been able to see Hoes in center quite a few times now, and I would place him as below-average to average. While his speed and athleticism makes up for a lot of mistakes, he has a little trouble reading balls off the bat sometimes. This could get better with more time out there though.
His arm is probably average for the OF, and is not really a huge deal to me in terms of how well he plays CF. While he certainly could learn better how to hit the cut-off man, realize he is still a little raw in terms of playing out there. Hoes has a little trouble with his route-running, but I also think that could be worked on. In the end, I still think he probably ends up in the corner OF. He most likely ends up in LF where his defensive skill set is maximized.Not to mention the Orioles have Adam Jones and Nick Markakis manning CF and RF.
Another topic I want to discuss is his value towards the Orioles. While his defensive positioning might hurt his trade value and WAR, it shouldn’t matter unless the Orioles are thinking of trading him.
When the Orioles have a player producing it should not matter much where in the field he is playing. I often think people get overworked on value and WAR related issues. If the Orioles can win with players producing at all levels, than his value there shouldn’t be an end-all case. If Hoes could play a solid LF for the Orioles down the road, his value and production will surely benefit the Orioles.
However, Xavier Avery is also battling for that LF job. Down the road I think Hoes can be a solid but not spectacular player at the big league level. He’s not going to be WOW-ing anyone, but there is an opportunity on the Orioles in the future that he can grasp. He’s not quite on the 40-man roster yet, so that may determine whether they give him a cup of coffee this season.