03/18/12 6:01 PM ET
Roster spot? Hague has power to make it
Infielder firmly on Pirates' radar to claim backup infield position
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
He's at ease with his teammates and seems to have a firm understanding of what his role would be should he make the Pirates' 25-man roster out of Spring Training, a case he's been building strongly with each hit he collects.
Hague, 26, has played more first base than anything in his Minor League career, with some third sprinkled in.
He's spent considerable time working on improving at the hot corner, including playing there for all of a "B" game on Sunday morning against the Twins, knowing versatility will be the key to his chances of making it to the big leagues for the first time. He's even willing to go back to his old stomping grounds in the outfield, if that helps the cause.
"They told me to take some reps in the outfield and I have," said Hague, who slid over to DH for the Pirates in the "A" game Sunday afternoon. "Right now, the focus is on getting more comfortable at third base. It always helps to take some outfield. That's what I played my whole career in college. They want to throw me wherever they want, it doesn't matter to me. I'm trying to give them as many options as I can to be reliable."
"I haven't thrown in forever," Hague laughed.
That's just fine, because it's Hague's bat that has really put him on the precipice of helping in Pittsburgh. He's hit .302/.371/.442 over the course of his Minor League career. It hasn't been any different in big league camp, with a .409 average over 22 Grapefruit League at-bats. The right-handed hitter gets the "professional hitter" label, high praise for a guy who's offensive ability is his calling card.
"Matt Hague is definitely a hitter," Pirates farm director Kyle Start said. "He's comfortable and athletic in the box, more so than anywhere else on the field."
The one thing Hague hasn't shown much of is power. He does have some extra-base ability, with 27 homers the past two years and 30 or more doubles for the past three years running. Those numbers are solid, but don't quite fit the profile for an every-day corner infielder, where more power is generally required. It's one reason why one scout who has seen Hague this spring and really likes his bat thinks he's destined to be a utilityman.
"There's always that profile that corners have to hit for a lot of power," Hague acknowledged. "I've always had high doubles. For Spring Training, some of those doubles I used to hit have been going out. They always say doubles turn into home runs sometimes, but I don't pay much attention to that. The moment I try to be something I'm not, that's when I get in trouble. I'm just trying to do what I know how to do and let my talent and what I worked on during the offseason take over."
That includes trying to understand when he can, for lack of a better phrase, muscle up. He may never be a pure power guy, but he has the strength to take advantage of certain situations and let it rip.
"I think he's understanding now that he gets a little older, there are times he can go ahead and let it go a little bit," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's understanding when he's got a shot, to take it every now and then. He's driven some balls already this spring very well."
"While he doesn't have a lot of power, he probably shows some better hit-ability than some corner bats," Stark added. "That is his strength and he knows that. His growth in the power department has been primarily from his mental approach evolving as he looks to drive some balls in leverage counts."
For many, the fact Hague is being discussed in this manner, that he's being given this kind of opportunity to make the team, means he's already exceeded expectations. He was a senior sign, taken in the ninth round of the 2008 Draft and has had to prove himself one level at a time, never earning an in-season promotion.
He's 26, an age some feel is beyond "prospect" range. He's never placed highly, if at all, on rankings. He may have been under the radar, yet here he is ready to be a big leaguer.
"I'm not surprised based on the information 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."
"I don't really pay attention much to it," Hague said. "I haven't been a big prospect or anything like that. I'm happy with what I've done so far and I think there's a lot of room for me to improve.
"Thus far, I've felt pretty good. Baseball is about consistency, so I have to keep doing it, come to the ballpark every day with a focus on handling what I have to do. I came in here and want to contribute at the big league level. The rest is kind of out of my hands. I just show up to the ball field, try to get my work done and show them what I've got."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.