By Todd Johnson
Jesse Hodges has a mythos about him. Born and raised in Canada, at first glance he and his beard look like they could catch fish with their bare hands and wrestle a grizzly bear for kicks. His upbringing was nothing like that. Today, the bearded wonder is 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.
Hodges was a key cog in the Pelicans’ first half title run. He played mostly third base and was one of the best hitters on the team. Announcer Scott Kornberg said, “Hodges plays with his heart and emotions on his sleeve and is one of the hardest working players on the team.”
For Hodges, his road to Myrtle Beach has not been easy. He was 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 or “to hit the ball as hard as I could every time up.” He has since changed his approach.
Hodges advanced from Boise to South Bend and hit .238 in 2015 with only 6 HRs in 90 games. He returned to South Bend much improved in 2016. The biggest change was in his average as hit .287 with a .349 OBP. That earned him a midseason promotion to Myrtle Beach last summer. He got 100 at bats in and was part of the Mills Cup Championship team. However, he only hit .186 for the Pelicans.
Areas of Concern
K rate (21.8%)
Rolling over the ball
Heading into 2017
In talking with Hodges, his routine has changed quite a bit since it was early days at Boise. Now, he says, “Batting practice involves working on my bat path and trying to hit the ball up the middle. 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. Hodges also revealed that he does talk to his teammates about hitting, but he relies mainly on the coaching staff to make adjustments.
Hodges 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. That is a testament to his approach at the plate.
June has seen him on an excellent 10 day streak that I think is apart of his process to stay up the middle and the focus on his bat path. In 2016, he hit all of 1 HR. This year, he has 6 in the first half. This approach is paying off.
I enjoy watching him 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. I think he is really developing at the plate as he progresses and matures through the system.
It’s hard to see 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 all he focus on is what he can do each day – to stick with that approach. I think next year will be the telling year for him, as it is for many prospects, when they hit AA. But what Hodges is doing now is getting the process down every day, focusing on his path in BP, and driving the ball up the middle.