One of the main pieces in the Bud Norris trade coming to Houston in Baltimore will be starting in right field tonight. 23-year old outfielder LJ Hoes has had two cups of coffee in the majors, but does not yet have his first career MLB hit.
That may come tonight, with his family in from DC to see him. But, before we see him on the field, what can Astros fans expect from him? Let's run through a quick scouting report.
Hoes was drafted out of high school in Washington, D.C. by the Orioles. He steadily made his way through their system, but hasn't found a position yet. He's loose and athletic, but couldn't play on the infield. He may play in center field, but he doesn't take great routes to the ball and most reports suggest he's limited to a corner.
That means his bat has to be special to develop and it sort of fits the profile. Hoes has shown at every level that he can draw walks and hit for a high average. He has above-average tools, but doesn't excel with any of them. This season, he's hitting .304/.406/.403 for the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate with three home runs and seven steals in 99 games and 430 plate appearances.
He had a 13.5 percent walk rate and only struck out 13 percent of the time. In all his minor league stops, the highest his strikeout rate ever got was 18.2 percent in the Arizona Fall League in 2012. Otherwise, Hoes has hit for average with little power but great on-base percentage.
ZiPS projected Hoes to hit .268/.325/.359 the rest of the way with four steals and two home runs while posting a walk rate of 7.5 percent and a strikeout rate of 15 percent. It also projects him to post slightly above average defensive numbers and 0.2 fWAR.
As a player with no position and no power, that floor is low. If Hoes can't make contact in the majors, he cannot play on a corner in the outfield, turning him into a fifth outfielder off the bench. In that respect, he reminds me of the other outfielder Houston acquired this week, Danry Vasquez from Detroit. Or Robbie Grossman. Luhnow seems to have a particular profile of OF he goes after, doesn't he?
If Hoes' biggest problem in the outfield is route-running, put him with Vince Coleman or whoever else Houston has this winter and teach him. If he can play center field, Hoes has the potential to be Jon Jay, an above-average regular at the position who hits for power, has a little speed with decent walk rates. Jay's defensive numbers haven't been sterling, but they're passable. And Jay plays all over the field, which is what Hoes could end up doing too.
Hoes is a contact hitter with good plate discipline, willing and able to take a walk. His level, compact swing can produce some doubles and triples, but he is not a home run hitter and isn't going to turn into one without a drastic (and likely counterproductive) change in his approach. He is your basic tweener-type outfielder, lacking the big bat to thump his way into a regular corner job, but not running or throwing quite well enough to play center field regularly for a good team.
A third-round pick out of a Washington, D.C., high school in 2008, Hoes has proven his ability to hit for average in the minors but hasn't been able to crack Baltimore's big league roster. He has gotten just four at-bats for the Orioles, all coming in the last two years. Hoes' strengths are making consistent contact and getting on base, as he has hit .302 with a .391 on-base percentage and nearly as many walks (92) as strikeouts (99) in Triple-A during the last two seasons. He's more of a tweener than a regular outfielder, however, because he has below-average power (.400 slugging percentage) and lacks the defensive chops to play center. He has average speed and arm strength and is capable of manning either outfield corner.
L.J. Hoes (St. John H.S., Washington, D.C.) is a center fielder and right-handed pitcher who's a potential second- or third-rounder as a position player. At the plate, he has good bat speed and accelerates his wrists well, generating some backspin and wearing out the right side of the field. (His high school's home field has a relatively close fence in right, but no fence in left, so as a right-handed hitter, Hoes has tailored his approach to go the other way.) He showed excellent recognition of offspeed pitches, staying back on a curveball for a base hit to the left side, then singling to right on a slider away. He tends to glide forward as he gets his front foot down, and as a result doesn't get his lower half involved enough when he makes contact. Hoes is an average runner with a slightly above-average arm, pitching at 86-87 mph in a late-game relief stint. The main question for scouts on Hoes will be whether they think he can stay in center field, where he's rough right now but also hasn't had a ton of instruction. If he can handle center, he's a potential big-league regular who should hit for average and get on base, but he doesn't project to have the power teams desire in a corner outfielder if he has to move to left or right field.
LJ Hoes is near-MLB ready outfielder who gets downgraded only because he probably won't get much better than he is today. Other than a power shortage, he's pretty much what you want to see in a prospect just leaving his teenaged years: good bat speed and good raw mechanics at the plate (despite an unusual late load) and all-around athleticism in the field. He's a contact hitter still, but the bat speed and solid fundamentals still point to possible power developing somewhere down the road, though he's running out of time to show it. His ETA in Baltimore is 2013, and he could start by 2014.
When the Orioles have a player producing it should not matter much where in the field he is playing. I often think people get overworked on value and WAR related issues. If the Orioles can win with players producing at all levels, than his value there shouldn't be an end-all case. If Hoes could play a solid LF for the Orioles down the road, his value and production will surely benefit the Orioles.
However, Xavier Avery is also battling for that LF job. Down the road I think Hoes can be a solid but not spectacular player at the big league level. He's not going to be WOW-ing anyone, but there is an opportunity on the Orioles in the future that he can grasp. He's not quite on the 40-man roster yet, so that may determine whether they give him a cup of coffee this season.
I really like his walk rate. In all of his stops in the minors, he has drawn 155 walks in 1,619 plate appearances. This would tell me he understands the strike zone and demonstrates above average on base skills. Throw in that he is doing this younger than the competition and it leads me to believe that this skill should be transferable and hopefully will only improve when he makes it to the big club. And while his power isn't there, I think it's still an open question if it might someday come, and rightly or wrongly, I attribute this hope to age v. comp.
As far as comps, maybe Luis Castillo?
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