Matt Hague was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the ninth round of the 2008 draft. He signed immediately, and was hot out of the gate, batting for a .322 average in his first half season. Hague carried that hitting success over to high A this year, batting .293 on the season, and helping to lead the Hillcats to the Carolina League title.
I had a chance to interview Matt, the same day as his home run in the opening game against Salem, and we discussed the draft, his move from third to first, and his power potential. Here is what he had to say:
Tim: You were originally drafted in 2007 with the Cleveland Indians. What made you decide to not sign with them and go back to college?
Matt: Pretty much I just wanted to go back to school. I went to Oklahoma State, I verbally committed to them, and pretty much just wanted to enjoy a top program and see what it’s like there. My initial reaction was pretty much to go back to school.
Tim: 2008 draft, how much contact did you have with the Pirates before the draft?
Matt: Pretty good contact, meetings and all of that. Talked to them once in awhile, the brief little talk to them and all of that stuff.
Tim: You were drafted as a third baseman. How has the move to first base gone?
Matt: Pretty much I learned a lot this year at first base. Just a little different, I don’t have to make that long throw anymore. It’s a process and I just gotta keep sticking with it and getting better over there in the corner.
Tim: Do you see yourself sticking at first base in the future, or moving to a different position?
Matt: Wherever they want to put me, I really don’t care as long as I get a hit. Whatever they want to do, I’m all for it.
Tim: You haven’t seem to have a problem hitting for average. Is it as easy as you’ve been making it look?
Matt: Just basically sticking with my plan and just keep staying focused and doing what I believe I know I can do. Just keep executing my plan, whatever it is that day. Pretty much just staying focused and executing.
Tim: What’s the difference, talent-wise, between college and A-ball so far?
Matt: Just more consistency. The pitchers make it look a lot easier here than college. For the most part, same (velocity), same off-speed stuff, but just do it a lot smarter in pro ball. The grind of everyday, you know they do it everyday, so they have a good idea of what they’re doing.
Tim: You’re described as having power potential, you showed some of that tonight, crushing one over the left field wall. Describe that shot.
Matt: Just basically, sitting on a fastball, he threw two off-speed pitches. I was getting geared up for a fastball, he left it up a little, and I put a good swing on it, and it went pretty good.
Tim: You showed some of that throughout the year. Going forward, how do you project your power increasing from there? Is there any plan you have in place?
Matt: I think basically just getting used to playing every day. I don’t know what my power potential is going to be, but as long as I get some doubles and a couple homeruns I’ll be fine.
Tim: What would you say is the biggest strength of your game?
Matt: Pretty much just staying focused and executing my plan. I think baseball is a big mental game. I feel I have a pretty good approach, and basically just staying with my approach.
Tim: What’s the biggest thing you’re working on?
Matt: Just not getting outside my zone, not trying to do too much. I have that problem sometimes, I try to do too much. Just basically staying with my own swing and executing the plan again.
Tim: You’ll be going to the Florida Instructional League in a few weeks. What’s the biggest thing you’ll be working on there?
Matt: Probably defensively and a lot of strength conditioning. The biggest thing is trying to lean out and get ready, and drop some pounds. Basically just strength and conditioning stuff. Run a lot, and some defensive work, and I’m sure I’ll be hitting a lot too.
The scouting report on Hague was that he had a strong arm, but lacked the range to remain at third base. It’s not like third base is set in the majors, but with Pedro Alvarez in the system, and Andy LaRoche and Neil Walker in the majors, it’s unlikely that Hague would have ended up at third anyways. The combination of the lack of range, and the lack of need probably prompted the move to first.
Hague has been a solid hitter. In the 2008 season, after signing with the Pirates, Hague hit for a .322/.386/.467 line with six homers in 242 at-bats. This year he hit for a .293/.356/.412 line with eight homers in 454 at-bats. The home run numbers aren’t what you want from a first baseman, but that’s not saying Hague lacks power. This season Hague hit 30 doubles, after hitting 17 last season.
Power is usually the last thing to develop for a hitter, but one big indicator of future power is doubles. Hague’s 30 doubles ranked 11th in the Carolina League this year, with a double every 15.13 at-bats.
Hague does a lot of things well. His average was second best in the Carolina League this year. He doesn’t strike out a lot, striking out in just 14.8 percent of his at-bats. He’s played some good defense at first from what I’ve seen, especially considering this is his first full year at the position.
I could see Hague easily making the jump to Altoona next year, especially after tearing up high A pitching this year, capped off with some strong play in the post-season. In the future, improvement on the power numbers is a must for Hague’s development. The Pirates have Calvin Anderson in West Virginia, and probably moving up to Lynchburg if Hague starts in Altoona. Hague and Anderson both have power potential, but neither have shown more than flashes of that potential in their young pro careers. If Hague can make an adjustment and realize that potential, then we could see plenty of these shots in the future:
Like this interview? Check back tomorrow for my interview with Jordy Mercer. Also, be sure to check out my previous interviews with Tony Sanchez, Rudy Owens, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, and Hillcats’ manager P.J. Forbes.