Kentwood's Hague on cusp of promotion to Pittsburgh Pirates | BASEBALL

Matt Hague, a 2004 Kentwood High product, is currently a first baseman for the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hague entered the week hitting among the International League leaders and as a prime target to be called up to the contending Pirates.  - BILL GENTRY, Courtesy Photo
Matt Hague, a 2004 Kentwood High product, is currently a first baseman for the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hague entered the week hitting among the International League leaders and as a prime target to be called up to the contending Pirates.
— image credit: BILL GENTRY, Courtesy Photo

Matt Hague is keeping things in perspective.

For someone in Hague’s shoes, however, that might seem like a tall order. After all, the former Kentwood High baseball star is on the cusp of reaching the pinnacle of his craft.

An injury here or a slump there, and Hague will find himself playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, which are currently contending for a playoff berth for the first time since the early 1990s.

Yet, the corner infielder who is currently playing for the Indianapolis Indians, Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate, is too busy focusing on the present to spend much time wondering what the near future very well might hold.

“I figure it will take care of itself,” said Hague, a 2004 Kentwood High graduate who has played primarily first base for the Indians, but also has spent time at third base, as well. “I am hoping I get some time (in the majors) this year. I have a chance to go up. Really, we will have to wait and see.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

That could be a tough task for Hague, who has been mentioned recently as being a potential callup. However, the potential of an immediate callup became doubtful last week, when the Pirates traded for veteran first baseman Derrek Lee and optioned struggling Lyle Overbay to the minors.

“It’s more on the periphery,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “There’s other guys in front of him right now.”

To put Hague’s position in perspective, it’s worth noting that Kentwood High has never produced a major league baseball player. In fact, the last player from the area to reach the majors was Kentridge High product Mason Tobin, a Rule 5 selection by the Texas Rangers earlier this spring who logged 5 1/3 innings pitched before suffering a season-ending elbow injury. The last position player from the area to reach the majors is Travis Ishikawa, a Federal Way High product and first baseman who spent last season with the San Francisco Giants. Ishikawa is currently on the roster of the Fresno Grizzlies, San Francisco’s Triple-A affiliate.

According to former Kentwood coach Jon Aarstad, what sets Hague apart from so many other area players who were drafted, but never reached the major league level, is his focus.

“That kid is a hard worker, and he’s so focused,” Aarstad said of Hague. “He is so much more focused on where he’s going and what he wants than anybody I have seen. He’s got the talent. He’s just now putting it all together.”

No doubt about that.

During a 10-game stretch in late June, Hague went 20 for 40 with four home runs, 10 runs batted in and 12 runs scored, further cementing himself as a prime target for a late-season call-up. The surge helped Hague land a spot on the International League All-Star team. Hague entered this week hitting .314 (fourth in the league) with nine home runs and 55 RBIs in 411 at-bats.

As good as Hague has been, however, he isn’t considered one of the organization’s top prospects. As he approaches his 26th birthday (Aug. 20), Hague has surpassed the age that baseball insiders consider top-prospect status, a label typically reserved for anyone between the ages of 18 and 22.

That said, Hague was listed by Baseball America as Pittsburgh’s 29th overall prospect in the 2011 Prospect Handbook, which is published on an annual basis and charts each organization’s top 30 minor league players.

Age remains one of the last thing on Hague’s mind these days.

Instead, the sweet-swinging, 6-foot-3, 225-pounder is more concerned with the opportunity he is currently getting with Indianapolis.

“Right now, I am actually the average age of most of the players in (the International League),” said Hague, a 2008 ninth-round pick out of Oklahoma State University. “I’ve progressed pretty well through the system. I have a great opportunity here with the Pirates to advance levels. (Age) is just one of those things. If it’s meant to happen, it’s meant to happen. I try not to think of age that much, but I know I’m a little old.”

But Hague’s current numbers are impossible to ignore. In fact, the former Conqueror has produced solid – if not spectacular – numbers every step of the way.

Last year, while playing for the Double-A Altoona Curve, Hague enjoyed a breakout campaign, hitting .295 with 15 home runs and 86 RBIs. Hague’s numbers were a key reason the Curve won the Eastern League championship.

Yet, the numbers that might be most impressive come tied to Hague’s plate discipline. He walked 61 times last year compared to just 62 strikeouts, statistics that compare favorably to current Seattle Mariners rookie sensation Dustin Ackley.

It’s an approach to hitting that Hague molded at a young age while playing in the Kent Little League.

“I’ve always had a good strikeout-to-walk ratio,” he said. “I guess I’ve always had that approach. It’s something I’ve worked on a lot.”

The biggest thing currently blocking Hague’s path to big-league stardom is the recent acquisition of Lee, who will be depended upon during Pittsburgh’s stretch run. That said, Hague should be in line for a callup in September, when rosters expand.

Despite the current situation, Hague remains confident and focused on the opportunity in hand. The former Kentwood High star believes it’s just a matter of time before his big chance arrives – especially when considering teammates and close friends Alex Presley (outfield) and Chase d’Arnaud (shortstop), two guys who came through the farm system with Hague, already have been called up this season.

“We all played together. We are close. And then you see them play on TV the next day,” Hague explained. “I hear stories. Obviously, I want to get there. But I also want to stay there.

“I just have to stay focused.”

And, as Hague has done all this time, keep things in perspective.



NAME                   HS/YEAR            ORGANIZATION              LEVEL

Cody Bartlett        Kentwood/2006    Toronto Blue Jays                Rookie

Notable: Bartlett, a shortstop who was drafted in the 41st round of the June draft, entered the week hitting .207 with 12 RBIs in 17 games played for the Bluefield Blue Jays.

David Patton        Kentridge/2002               None                           --

Notable: Patton, a right-hander who pitched for the Chicago Cubs in 2009, spent most of last season on the roster of the Daytona Cubs, one of the organization’s Single-A affiliates. He was released and became a free agent in December.

Mason Tobin        Kentridge/2004              Texas Rangers                Majors

Notable: Tobin was picked up by the Chicago Cubs in December during the Rule 5 draft and promptly traded to Texas. A right-hander, Tobin made the Texas bullpen out of spring training, logged 5 1/3 innings of work with the big club before suffering a season-ending injury in April. It was reported that Tobin was to have Tommy John surgery on his elbow and miss between 12 and 18 months.




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