Jesse Hodges has something of a mythological feel about him. At first glance, the bearded Canadian native looks like he catches fish with his bare hands and wrestles grizzly bears for kicks. He can’t and doesn’t, of course, but it’s fun to think about.
The whiskered wonder is, however, one of the hottest hitters in the Cubs minor league system over the last 10 games. He is hitting .324 with a .378 OBP along with 2 HRs and 7 RBI in that span.
Hodges was a key cog in the Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ first half title run, playing mostly third base and providing an offensive spark. The 23-year-old is also a clubhouse leader, someone who sets an example for the rest of the roster.
“Hodges plays with his heart and emotions on his sleeve and is one of the hardest working players on the team,” said Pelicans broadcaster Scott Kornberg.
The road to Myrtle Beach has not been easy for Hodges, though. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012 after he had a game-winning home run for team Canada in the 18U World Tournament in Seoul, I first became aware of the Hodges when he was at Boise in 2015.
In those early days, Hodges admits that he was swinging for the fences and just trying to hit the ball as hard as he could every time up. He has since fine-tuned his approach.
Hodges advanced from Boise to South Bend and hit .238 in 2015 with only 6 home runs in 90 games. He returned to South Bend much improved in 2016, averaging .287 with a .349 OBP. That earned him a midseason promotion to Myrtle Beach, where logged 100 at-bats and was part of the Mills Cup Championship team last summer.
He only hit .186 for the Pelicans in that stretch, but he’s improving on that in a big way this season.
Areas of Concern
Rolling over the ball
Heading into 2017
Hedges has changed his routine since those early days in Boise when he looked to pull everything and just hit it hard.
“Batting practice involves working on my bat path and trying to hit the ball up the middle,” Hodges told me. “If I am a little early, I pull it; if I am a little late, it goes through right field.”
Hodges also told me that while others focus on the meditative aspects of the mental skills program, he chooses to incorporate breathing techniques into his approach at the plate to help calm his nerves. He also revealed that, while he does talk to his teammates about hitting, he relies mainly on the coaching staff to make adjustments.
The stout slugger has been improving every month this year. April was a little rough, but May saw him hit .293 with a .386 OBP. When he gets ahead in the count, he is hitting .383 with and amazing .574 OBP, a testament to that refined plate approach.
June has seen that excellent 10-day streak that I think is a part of his focus on staying up the middle and focusing on his bat path. After only one home run all of last season, Hodges already has six longballs in the first half. I’d say the changes are paying off.
I really just enjoy watching Hodges play, especially late in games. He seems to have a knack for timely hits, putting a good barrel on the ball, and he is very solid defensively. A big key for any hitter is the ability to adjust as he progresses and matures through the system, and that has been evident for Hodges over the last few seasons.
It’s hard to accurately judge where Hodges is going to be in the future. He plays at a position that is one of the most redundant in the Cubs’ system, but he’s able to focus on just what he can do each day and he trusts the process. I think next year will be telling for him, as it is for many prospects when they hit AA.
For now, it’s just a matter of getting the process down every day, focusing on his path in BP, and driving the ball up the middle.