Jeremy Hazelbaker on Proving His Skeptics (Like Me) Wrong

With the exception of an eight-game stretch in April where he went 13-for-26, with seven extra-base hits, Jeremy Hazelbaker has had a fairly unremarkable rookie season. The St. Louis Cardinals outfielder is slashing .239/.300/.487, with a dozen home runs in 221 plate appearances. He spent parts of June and July in Triple-A.

For a time, it looked like he might be a minor-league lifer. Drafted in the fourth round out of Ball State University by the Red Sox in 2009, Hazelbaker was dealt to the Dodgers following the 2013 season. Eighteen months later he was released. St. Louis signed him last May and assigned him to Double-A Springfield. He finished the year in Triple-A.

Hazelbaker was 28 years old when he reported to spring training — he turned 29 last month — and the odds were against him earning a spot on the Cardinals roster. He beat those odds.

I’d followed Hazelbaker’s career. I’d interviewed and written about him a handful of times as he was coming up through the Red Sox system. I’d seen the tools, but I hadn’t seen those tools translate into consistent performance. I was skeptical that I ever would.

When I caught up to Hazelbaker in early August, I admitted as much. Being perhaps a little too honest, I began the interview by saying: “I didn’t think you’d make it. Why was I wrong?” Here was his response.

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Hazelbaker on proving me wrong: “Everybody has their opinion on guys coming up. There are things people don’t really get. Looking in from the outside, you don’t see how hard of a worker a guy is, or how much drive and determination he has. Do you want to call me an underdog story? You can if you want. Whatever you want to call it, I know there have been people skeptical of me — my path, my journey, my abilities along the way.

“You can let that skepticism get you down, or you can use it to fuel your fire — you can use it as your driving force to get better. That’s what I did. I wanted to prove to people like yourself, who didn’t think I’d make it, that I wouldn’t amount to much, that I could. That’s what’s fun and makes this a great game. You can turn the people who doubted you into believers.

“A lot of it is opportunity. You need somebody willing to give you a chance. For some guys, it takes longer to click, and you might not stick around long enough for that to happen. I like to think that if you have the tools, and put in the time, it’s going to click at some point.

“The only time I questioned whether I’d ever have a big-league career is when I got released and was home for awhile. That kind of had me wondering. But I still knew I could play in the big leagues; it was just about opportunity.

“I played in the minor leagues for awhile. I got consistent at-bats, I just had a little trouble putting it together. I wasn’t consistent. But I then I was able to make a couple of mechanical changes with my swing and my approach. I was able put myself in a position to make a big-league club.

“I made adjustments during the offseason before the beginning of last year. I did that with the help of a guy named Mike Shirley. He’s a crosschecker with the White Sox. I work out with him every offseason in Indiana. We were talking and he suggested some things. I knew I needed to make an adjustment, and I was on board with what he was saying. I was all in.

“There had been suggestions before. There are always suggestions in the minor leagues. I wouldn’t say I was ever stubborn. I like to believe I’m a very coachable person, and I think all of my rovers and hitting coaches would say the same thing. Whatever they’d suggest, I’d give it a try. But some things work for some guys and they don’t work for other guys. For me, it was just trial and error, trial and error, trial and error. Finally, this one thing clicked.

“I kind of revamped. Everything from my stride to my barrel positioning to my hand positioning. I kind of worked some kinks out. My swing was already pretty short and compact. This was more to free myself up. It was about letting my hands work, and letting my god-given ability take over. We worked on all of that.

“We took BP in his pole barn, but I couldn’t take live ABs, and that’s what got me off to a slow start [in 2015]. My swing was feeling better than it ever had, but at the same time, it took a little time for it to get going. It was a new thing. It was a new swing, and new mechanics.

“Luckily, the Cardinals saw the skill set I had, and they were willing to give me a chance. Once I got that opportunity with them, I was able to start putting it together. From there, I was able to keep rolling. I had a good spring.

“This season has been a learning curve. This is the big leagues. It’s not the minor leagues. Teams get very detailed scouting reports on you, and they make adjustments on you. You have to make adjustments back. I started off hot and then tailed off a bit. I got sent down for awhile. That gave me consistent at-bats and I got my swing back to where it needs to be.

“Luckily, they needed me back up here to fill a void. They had a role for me again and I’d like to think I can help this team. I know I worked hard to get this opportunity. I was able to prove to people that I could play in the big leagues.”

We hoped you liked reading Jeremy Hazelbaker on Proving His Skeptics (Like Me) Wrong by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Thr33Rings
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Thr33Rings

I like this kid, tons of heart and just goes to show that stat nerds are wrong. You cannot quantify hustle. Sure his WAR is low but my guess is that his attitude has helped more than anything.