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September 1, 2010 at 1:31 PM

Q&A with Jeremy Hazelbaker

Jeremy Hazelbaker has had an up-and-down professional career since signing with the Red Sox shortly after being drafted in June 2009. The fourth round pick out of Ball State impressed with a breakout junior season in 2009 in which he hit .429/.550/.724 after being converted to the outfield. Hazelbaker began his professional journey last season as a member of both the Lowell Spinners and the Greenville Drive. Unfortunately, the transition from college to the pros was not an easy one for Hazelbaker in 2009, and he ended the season hitting just .165/.289/.228 in 48 games.

After an impressive offseason that included taking home the Fall Instructional League Top Player honors, he returned to Greenville looking to make 2010 a season that he could be proud of. Just as he opened eyes at Ball State in 2009, Hazelbaker has garnered attention this season, thanks to improved plate discipline and his ever-present plus speed. As of August 31, Hazelbaker was hitting .270/.360/.461 with 11 home runs, 56 RBI and an eye popping 60 stolen bases. His impressive season has led to a lofty honor, being named to the South Atlantic League's Post-Season All-Star Team, the first Greenville Drive member in history to earn a spot on the squad. Jeremy took some time to talk about his transition from college, his approach to base stealing, and what has led to his impressive sophomore campaign in the Red Sox system.

John Gray: Back last June, did you have any idea that the Red Sox were going to draft you? How was the process of signing and getting out on the field?
Jeremy Hazelbaker: The Red Sox were one of the few teams that I had hardly any contact with leading up to the draft. I remember getting a call from their area scout the morning before I was drafted, but other than that it was just knowledge that they came to see me play. Signing and getting out on the field was not as complicated as I thought it would be. There was a basic process of meeting people in the organization, a drug test, and a physical that accounted for the majority of the procedural stuff after I signed.

JG: As an infielder to start your college career, what was it like to make the transition to playing the outfield at Ball State? Do you feel like you could slide back to the infield if you were called upon to?
JH: There wasn't too much of a transition for me moving from being an infielder to playing the outfield. I did not end up playing very well my sophomore season, and I lost my spot as an everyday player. In my season ending meeting with my coach, I told him that I was going to come back for my junior year and be an impact everyday player and asked him where he wanted me to play. He told me that he was thinking about center field, and I said "okay, that's where I'll be." I came back my junior year and had a great season in center field. I like to joke around with my manager [Billy McMillon] now about me playing a game or two in the infield, but I feel like my natural place is in the outfield since that is where I feel I can make the greatest impact on defense.

JG: To what do you attribute your breakout year as a junior at Ball State?
JH: I really believe just settling down and being comfortable allowed me to just play the game the way that I knew I always could. Once you are comfortable, the game becomes so much more enjoyable to play.

JG: What was the adjustment like going from college ball to Lowell and Greenville?
JH: It was a big transition. I was a kid from a small town that went to college pretty close to home. It was the first time I moved far away, lived totally on my own, and I really got to know the meaning of living paycheck to paycheck. I was lucky that I met so many great guys and made new friends - they really helped me transition to being a professional. As far as baseball goes, it's a challenge to jump from college to the pros. You really need to adjust to using a wooden bat and develop strong pitch recognition in order to be successful. Once I started playing in Lowell and Greenville I was seeing a much wider variety of pitches than I did in college, so it was an adjustment knowing that you could see any pitch any time.

JG: You were named the top Fall Instructional League player for the Red Sox in 2009. For those fans that don't know, can you describe to us what Fall Instrux are like, and what earned you that honor?
JH: It's basically what it sounds like. Instructional league is about a three week long competitive scrimmage league where you have workouts in the morning and work on certain things defensively or offensively that you can put to practice when you play in games that afternoon.

JG: You were able to get some time with the big league club this spring. What was the experience like for you? Can you point to any one thing that you took away from that time that really improved your game?
JH: It was an amazing experience to get to spend time with the major league squad. The main thing I took away from playing with Boston was really the bond that the guys shared together, it was something really special. The guys were really like a family and getting to experience that camaraderie first hand is something I'll never forget.

JG: Besides speed, what makes for a great base runner in your mind?
JH: In my mind, you don't have to have blazing speed to be a great base runner. There are many things you have to take in account: positioning of the outfield, the count on the batter, the timing of the game, the type of pitcher, and the type of catcher your facing. You want to try and pick up on the smallest advantages that you can that will give you another foot or another step, because in this game that's usually what it comes down to. You also have to have the right attitude, knowing that they can be at their best and still have no chance of getting you out. It's a willingness to risk it and put it all on the line for your team to get that run in.

JG: We've see you put on quite a show in batting practice. Do you feel like power is a big part of your game? How does that come into play with a goal like cutting down on strikeouts?
JH: I can't say that power is a big "tool" of mine. To be completely honest I would much rather hit a line drive into the gap and leg out a triple than hit a home run. I feel like my biggest tool is my speed, so I like to maximize my opportunities to impact the game with my legs. Cutting down on strikeouts is a big goal for me. I have struck out a lot this season and it's something that I will fix. When you get ahead in the count you are in the driver's seat, you can wait for your pitch and not chase. When I get behind in the count, my mentality is to battle like a madman and spray the ball somewhere that it will drop in or that I can beat out.

JG: What has made 2010 different than 2009 for you?
JH: The biggest difference was having half a season of pro ball under my belt so I already knew what to expect coming into the season. I knew after struggling during the last half of 2009 that I didn't want to go through that again, and that I was better than that. So I started training correctly in the offseason and preparing myself for the upcoming 2010 season. I feel like the motivation to succeed and the extra work I put in during the winter has really made me learn what it takes to have success.

JG: What one teammate has impressed you most during your time in the minors?
JH: Without a doubt it has to be Daniel Butler. He is one of those players that any competitive person would love to have on their team and in their organization. He is as hardnosed as they come and will grind it out with anyone. He works as hard as any player you will ever see and puts his all into every game and every work out.

JG: What can you tell us about your former and now current teammate Kolbrin Vitek?
JH: He is a hard worker and a good player. He gets after it on the field and in the weight room. He has good hands and has a very good bat. I am excited to get to play with him again.

JG: Moving away from baseball, what do you enjoy doing when you are away from the field?
JH: When I am away from baseball, I like to spend a lot of time with my family. I am a big family guy and I live in the country on a horse farm, so I really enjoy anything that's outside like bonfires, riding horses, and boating!