Josh Ockimey has developed into one of the more promising hitting prospects in the Red Sox organization, and he’s done so by shunning comparisons. The 23-year-old first baseman resembles a slugger from his home town, but doesn’t emulate him.
“Being from Philadelphia, I always got the Ryan Howard comparison,” Ockimey told me early in 2018. “But I really just try to be Josh Ockimey. I’ve learned that when you try to be somebody else, you’ll never be as good as they are. They’re them and you have to do what makes you you. I focus on that and try to be the best that I can be.”
What makes Ockimey Ockimey is a discerning eye paired with plus power from the left side. A sturdy 235 pounds — “that’s the weight I play best at” — he finished this season with an .811 OPS and 20 home runs in 481 plate appearances between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.
Boston’s 2014 fifth-round pick did admire Howard while honing his own skills at Philadelphia’s Neumann and Goretti Catholic High School. But again, emulation isn’t something he believes in.
“Growing up watching him, and seeing him just kind of flick balls out … it was very, very impressive,” Ockimey said. “He was a great player. But I watched the whole team and lot of those guys were different. There were the things that made them good. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t try to be somebody you’re not.”
The youngster has shortcomings as well as strengths. Most notably, his size limits him to first base, and there’s been a troubling amount of swing and miss to his game. He went down on strikes 149 times last year. Pair that with plus power and a solid walk rate, and Ockimey profiles, for better or worse, as a three-true-outcomes player.
He’s smart enough to realize that being a bopper isn’t enough. In order to reach The Show, he’ll need to improve both his contact rate and batting average (.245 last year), while continuing to draw free passes. As he put it, “Your power numbers can often go up and down, but that won’t matter as much if you’re still getting on base.”
His hitting approach is pretty straightforward.
“The key is hitting strikes and doing damage on mistakes,” Ockimey explained. “I focus on seeing the ball out of the pitcher’s hand as early as possible, and if I swing and miss on a pitcher’s pitch, I tell myself, ‘That’s the last time I’m going to swing at that pitch from him.’ With more experience, I’m seeing what I can and can’t do with certain pitches. For me, trusting my eyes and being on time are the biggest things. When I’m doing well, I’m focusing on those. When I’m not doing well, I’m focusing on something else.”
Streakiness has been an issue. This past season Ockimey had a pair of stretches where he went 10-for-19, and another where he went 11-for-21. On the flip side, he struggled through a 1-for-22 skid, as well as an even-more-heinous 2-for-37. He doesn’t believe the ebbs have been a result of putting too much pressure on himself and trying to do too much. Rather, he feels they’re simply a part of the natural development process.
“Every hitter goes through little things,” opined Ockimey, who gets high marks for his character. “Maybe it’s thinking too much — that happens to all of us from time to time — but I feel like I’m really good at focusing on the task at hand. We’re taught that you can only control what you can control, and I’m really buying into that. It’s kind of like how I look at the trade deadline: I can’t trade myself. If I can’t do it, I can’t worry about it.”
Eligible but not selected in December’s Rule 5 draft, Ockimey is one of 10 non-roster invitees to the Red Sox’ 2019 Spring Training roster.
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.