Jake Hager was a strange draft selection by the Rays when they pegged him with the 32nd overall selection in the 2011 MLB Draft. Around him, they drafted high school players teeming with upside such as Taylor Guerrieri and Tyler Goeddel. Hager was drafted out of high school, but he was an exception. The focus with him wasn’t on his upside- it was on his leadership and drive to succeed.
Jake Hager assumes nothing. He acknowledges that he has plenty of things still to work on. There are plenty of skills he has still has to sharpen. And he knows that the only way he is going to get to where he wants to be as a baseball player is by not just putting the work in, but by going all out to perfect his game in every possible way and get the most out of his ability. He’s the first person in the weight room and the last one to leave. He works countless hours on his strengths and even more on the parts of his game that need improvement. He views failure as a reminder of the work still to be done and success as a brief glimpse of just how good he can be if he continues to improve. At the Low-A level of the minor leagues, there is plenty of talent to be found, but just as much immaturity. Hager is a refreshing exception. And his character reflects on his teammates.
It’s not that Jake Hager isn’t a very talented baseball player. There’s plenty of reason that he was a first round pick. But what’s interesting about Hager is that despite his work ethic, he’s not really an instinctual player. Hager shows great bat speed and barrels line drives with occasional flashes of power. He makes a lot of contact and strikes out very little. His plate discipline is decent, but it’s something that he continues to work on. Hager is fast, but needs work on reading pitchers. But defensively may be where Hager shines the most, featuring very good range, smooth actions, and a strong arm. Hager is advanced defensively for a shortstop coming out of high school. Hager has the ability to be an above-average all-around shortstop. And his work ethic will give him a better chance to get there.
So far in 2012, Hager, just 19 years old but already at Low-A Bowling Green, has posted a .280/.334/.401 line with 17 doubles, 6 homers, 57 RBI, 10 steals but 9 caught stealings, and 25 walks compared to 42 strikeouts in 82 games and 356 plate appearances. The steals are an obvious place where he needs to improve, and looking into his batted ball tendencies (courtesy of Minor League Central) tells us more. Hager posted a 19.5% line drive rate, far above the 15.1% league average and in fact the 9th-highest ratio in the Midwest League minimum 300 plate appearances. Every player above him is at least one year older than him, and 7 of 8 are at least 2 years older, which tells you just how advanced Hager is in his ability to hit the ball on the barrel. But at the same time, Hager has managed an 8.6% pop-up rate compared to the 7.3% league average. Hager has struggled at times when he has tried to really elevate the ball for home runs and extra-base hits. But for Hager, it’s all part of the process. He knows that he’s a talented baseball player. He also realizes that he has a long way to go. Over the next several seasons, Hager will work unceasingly to improve his ability to read pitchers and make better contact when attempted to hit the ball in the air. He will work on his plate discipline and even though he hits the ball hard, he will look to hit it harder. Defensively, his fielding percentage has been .956, excellent for a player his age but Hager doesn’t care about that. It’s all about the destination and Hager knows that he can’t get smug with his abilities. No matter how good he is, there’s always more work to be done.
Jake Hager isn’t the flashiest prospect. He’s not going to be a player who is a threat to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases someday. But you don’t want everyone to be flashy. Jake Hager is a promising prospect with a blue-collar attitude and he’s ready to do everything he can to get the most out of every part of his game. Hager is a long way from the big leagues, but he’s willing to put in every once of work to improve his game to the highest extent he can and eventually get there. However, even then, he won’t be able to get complacent. For Jake Hager, there’s always more work to be done, and nothing will stop him.