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SoxProspects News

September 2, 2011 at 4:40 PM

Hazelbaker finishing strong with Sea Dogs

After a slow start in Portland, outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker has—in batting stance and performance—reverted back to the form that saw the Ball State product named a SoxProspects.com All-Star in 2010.

In the month of August, Hazelbaker hit .343 with a .983 OPS. In his last 21 games, the 24-year-old outfielder is even hotter, hitting .417 (35 for 84) with 4 home runs and 11 RBI, a hot spell that both Hazelbaker and manager Kevin Boles attribute to a simplification of his mechanics at the plate.

“I’m not big talking about mechanics, but when you look at his swing, when he first got here, it was a real open stance,” Boles said. “Now, he’s getting himself more squared up. It looks like he’s getting his lower half established a little better, and he’s managing his time more so he can react to pitches better.”

When SoxProspects.com Director of Scouting Chris Mellen wrote Hazelbaker up in a July edition of “The Book,” he said Hazelbaker demonstrated a typical left-handed hitter’s sweet spot on balls down-and-in but otherwise had holes in his swing.

“My stance was open, my shoulders were open, and to get back to where I wanted to be, I had a lot of movement,” Hazelbaker said. “It messed with my vision, my head, my body in general.”

Realizing that, Hazelbaker and hitting coach Dave Joppie looked at tape of Hazelbaker from 2010 in Greenville, when the player said he last felt good at the plate.

“I went back to exactly what I was doing last year,” he said. “My stance, my swing, everything. And so far, it’s been working for me. Honestly, I think that was the cause of me not hitting so well. I just had so much movement in my swing early in the season. I was trying something new and it just wasn’t working for me.”

The 2010 South Atlantic League Postseason All-Star said that the changes in his swing were gradual, a combination of his own thought process and what he was hearing from a couple different people in the organization.

“I was trying to do a little too much and got out of my game plan, searching for more power,” he said. “But that’s not the kind of player I am.”

Even so, Hazelbaker was part of the first major batch of promotions this season. After spending all of 2010 with Greenville, Hazelbaker posted a .279/.389/.475 line with 5 home runs and 14 RBI in 34 games with Salem before being called up to Portland.

His bat isn’t the only part of his game coming around late in the season. A prodigious base-stealer in 2010—he swiped a system-leading 63 bags, good enough for third-best in the minor leagues—Hazelbaker got off to a slower start on the base paths this season.

“You’ve got to pick your spots,” Hazelbaker said. “I wasn’t finding very many opportunities to go, and plus, as you move up, it’s always harder and harder to steal.”

He was successful on 12 of 18 stolen bases attempts for Salem and stole just 3 bases in his first 15 Double-A games, but has since turned on the burners. In 86 games for the Sea Dogs, he’s stolen 35 bases and been caught just 7 times, making him a more-than-respectable 47 for 60 on the season.

Boles has seen significant development in Hazelbaker as a base-stealer since his arrival.

“I think he’s reading pitchers, looking at pitchers’ keys, and trusting himself,” Boles said. “At the lower levels, if you’re a fast guy, you can run and you’re going to beat things out because of catcher accuracy, or the stretch times are slower. Now, you’ve got guys with a little more polish, so you have to kind of pick your spots.”

And despite the player’s short stay in High-A—hitters typically log 250 at-bats at the level before a promotion—Hazelbaker is right on track with similar college draftees in their second full year. Others, like Aaron Bates, Jon Still, and Zach Daeges, either began or reached High-A during their first full season, so Hazelbaker’s brief stop in Salem was an instance of him catching up to his age track.

Having just turned 24, Hazelbaker is right on track in Double-A, though he didn’t read much into the timing of his early-season promotion.

“I just wanted to get to that next level and show them that I belong here, that I can perform here,” Hazelbaker said.

Now that he has, Boles believes the potential for much more exists within Hazelbaker’s 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame.

“This is an exciting, live body, but it’s a body that can stay youthful for a while,” Boles said. “It’s one of those fast-twitch bodies. He’s made the adjustments, and hopefully that can continue to improve.”