By Mike Scandura
The Boston Red Sox didn’t exactly do outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker any favors after they picked him in the fourth round of the 2009 draft shortly after he finished his junior season at Ball State.
Because the Greenville Drive was saddled with injuries, Hazelbaker played all of three games at Lowell before he was bumped up to the Low-A South Atlantic League team.
To say Hazelbaker was in over his head would be an understatement.
In 45 games with Greenville, he hit well below the Mendoza Line – .167 (25-for-150) with one home run and only nine RBI. But Hazelbaker did give an indication of what he can bring to the proverbial table by stealing 11 bases in 13 attempts.
Now, flash forward to the 2010 season when Hazelbaker, after navigating the potholes he encountered in 2009, gave a better indication of why the Red Sox pursued him.
For one thing, he was named Boston’s Base Runner of the Year (all minor league player accolades are picked by Boston’s baseball operations department and minor league roving instructors).
“All” the 23-year-old Hazelbaker did was steal 63 bases in 80 attempts – the most in one season by a Boston farmhand since Gus Burgess swiped 68 in 1991.
Combined those numbers with a more respectable .267 average, 29 doubles, nine triples, 12 home runs, 59 walks and 62 RBI, and it’s easy to see why Hazelbaker was named a South Atlantic League post-season All-Star.
Even more impressive was the fact Hazelbaker didn’t moan and groan about the position he was thrust in after college.
“Being put in that position actually may have helped him out,” said an American League scout. “He got to experience how pro ball is so different from college ball and what the atmosphere is like.
“He just went about his business and did the best he could under adverse circumstances.”
Hazelbaker obviously, faced another challenge this year because he was going to face more experienced catchers as well as pitchers who are more adept at holding runners on first base.
“He has the first step and speed to have an impact in the running game at any level, including the major leagues,” said the scout.
Hazelbaker began the season at High-A Salem in the Carolina League.
In 34 games, he hit .279 with nine doubles, five homers and 14 RBI. And he was successful on 12 of 18 stolen base attempts.
His performance earned him a promotion to Portland where, in his first 30 games, he hit .261 with eight doubles and 13 steals in 15 attempts.
Understandably, Hazelbaker, who hits from the left side, must continue to make adjustments at the plate as he faces more experienced pitchers.
“He must improve his pitch recognition,” said the scout. “But he’s shown he has some pop and can hit to all fields.”
Hazelbaker also must continue to work on his defense because he played third base in high school and second during his first two seasons at Ball State.
Among other things, he must get better reads on line drives and as well as balls hit in the gaps.