BRADENTON, Fla. — All Matt Hague has done in his professional career is hit. Hit, hit, hit. And so far during the Grapefruit League this spring, Hague has continued to swing a hot bat. So much in fact that Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle has a nickname for him, ‘the hit collector.’
The 26-year-old was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 9th round of the 2008 draft after playing college ball at the University of Washington and Oklahoma State University. Throughout his minor league career, Hague has been a professional hitter, hitting for nothing less than a .293 clip over four seasons in the system.
Hague had a solid 2011 season in Triple-A, which earned him a spot on the Pirates 40-man roster in December. Hague led the International League in hits (165), games (141) and at-bats (534) while ranking third in doubles (37) and sixth in batting average (.309). He also set career highs in hits and doubles and became the first Indy player to lead the league in hits since Junior Noboa in 1989.
He has done nothing but hit throughout his career, proving that he’s worthy on another promotion — a spot on the 25-man roster. All Hague needs is an opportunity.
“He can hit. He can flat out hit. And that’s the biggest asset that he has,” Triple-A Manager Dean Treanor said. “I still think there’s upside to that. I still think there’s upside to his power. I think that the areas he needs to work on is defensively.”
Drafted as a third baseman out of college, Hague was moved to play first base primarily during the 2009 season. Over the offseason, Hague spent two months playing winter ball in the Dominican to improve his versatility and hope that would earn him a spot in the Majors. Hague bounced back and forth from the hot corner at third to first base while in the Dominican, and he’s been doing the same thing during spring training with the big league club.
“I’m getting work in there everyday,” Hague said on playing third base. “I’m just trying to get better each day. I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable and starting to get the footwork down. Feeling pretty good for the most part.”
“I go out during BP sometimes and take some fly balls [in right field]. They tell me to take some reps in the outfield, so I have. I’m just trying to give them some more options.”
The first baseman knows his role should he make the club out of big league camp. In his first Major League spring training, he is working hard to prove he’s worthy of a shot.
“Not for the first base platoon, but a shot on the bench somewhere,” General Manager Neal Huntington said of Hague’s role with the club. “That’s where we’re going to push the third base a little bit to see how he can handle that. Can there be multiple positions for him off the bench in a pinch-hit role, part-time role? We’ve got some depth and some options, but Matt’s had a nice spring.”
“I’m going to get my work done. Just come to the ball field ready to get better and just take it day by day,” Hague said of the adjustment to a bench/utility role. “I’m trying to do whatever I can do to try and get a chance to contribute at the big league level. I’m really just trying to get more reliable at the positions and more comfortable, too.”
The Pirates have two open spots this spring to fill for the infield utility role. The club will need backups on the corners, and also need a middle utility infielder. Hague is battling along with other players such as Josh Harrison, Nick Evans, Jake Fox and Yamaico Navarro for a job.
The biggest tool that Hague brings is his bat. Although he’s working on improving his defense, Hague’s swing could be an asset to the club off the bench.
“His bat obviously is the tool that’s showed up for him throughout his minor league career,” Hurdle said. “It’s showing up now…He’s given us good at-bats pretty much consistently throughout the spring.”
“He gives you good at-bats…He battles. I think he’s understanding now that he gets a little older, there’s times when you need to get up and go ahead and let it go a little bit. He’s not been one that’s hit with a lot of power throughout the minor leagues, but he’s a very good hitter. He’s understanding that when he’s got a shot to take it every now and then. He’s driven some balls already this spring. Very well.”
After having a solid spring so far, where he’s hit .448 over 15 games with three home runs and nine RBI’s, Hague has started to open some eye’s to those have not yet heard of the 26-year-old. But those have watched him play in the minors are not surprised by the success he’s continuing to have.
“I’m not surprised [on his success] based on the information from I get from the people that don’t have him under the radar, the people that have watched him play,” Hurdle said. “He’s a very professional hitter. He’s worked hard to get better on defense..He’s finding grass..So far as advertised…He’s been a professional hitter throughout his career.”
Although Hague doesn’t have the prototypical power of a first baseman, what Hague does have is hit for a high average with high doubles and some homers sprinkled in. Hague hit 12 long balls last season with 37 doubles and a League-leading 165 hits. The 26-year-old also shows great patience at the plate, posting very strong walk to strikeout rates along the way.
“He is positive. He’s a very positive guy,” Treanor said. “We talked at the end of the season and also in the Dominican. He believes inside that he can hit at this level. He’s just waiting for that chance. The good thing about this spring is that it’s not that he’s opened some eyes, but he’s validated what us the minor leagues have been saying about him.”
Despite those saying that his bat profiles better as a utility role, not the 30-plus home runs you’d expect out of a first baseman at the Major League level, Hague doesn’t pay attention to what others say, because he believes that he can hit at this level.
“I don’t really pay too much attention to that,” Hague said. “There is that profile that those guys hit for a lot of power. The moment and I try and hit for a bunch of power is when I’m going to struggle. I’m just going to stick with my plan and try and do what I know how to do.
And that’s hit.
“I’m just trying to prove myself. Just give them as many options as I can and let the rest take care of itself.”