Hoes embracing new chance in Houston
Outfielder has made smooth transition after coming over from hometown team
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Coming up through the Orioles system was a "blessing" for L.J. Hoes. Getting called up to Baltimore to play for his favorite team as a kid was a "dream."
What about having your hometown team suddenly trade you across Camden Yards?
"It was awkward. It was bittersweet," Hoes said Thursday of the deal that brought him to Houston and sent Bud Norris to Baltimore while the Astros happened to be in town. "A lot of my friends and my family are there. Getting traded and switching dugouts and switching clubhouses, it was different. I hadn't ever seen the other side of Camden Yards."
But Hoes made a smooth transition, hitting .287/.337/.371 in 46 games for the Astros last season. Now, he's trying to make the most of another opportunity in 2014 as he settles in with his new team and competes for a starting spot in the Astros' outfield. It's a crowded competition, with J.D. Martinez, Marc Krauss and prospect George Springer, but the 24-year-old said it's not weighing on his mind this spring.
"I just go out there and play my game," Hoes said. "I think whoever's in right field, we're going to push each other and we're going to try to make the team better. That has to be our main goal: making the Astros better and making sure that we win as many games as possible.
"I'm just trying to get my feet wet, just trying to learn everybody over here and learn the system," he added. "It's my first Spring Training with the Astros, so I kind of didn't know what to expect. But I've liked it so far, and now it's time to lock in and get ready for the season."
Astros manager Bo Porter said Thursday that the club is going to let all its position battles play out over the next two weeks, but he hopes to see Hoes make an impact at the big league level one way or another.
As he progressed through the Minors, Hoes became known as a prospect capable of posting high on-base percentages -- .383 in 2010, .354 in '11, .372 in '12 and .406 a year ago -- but not much power. Hoes is aware of that reputation, and he's perfectly fine with being selective at the plate and not trying to do too much with the pitches he can put in play.
"He's always gotten on base. Great Minor League numbers," Porter said. "[He] came here last year and was a great asset to our ballclub in the second half of the season. We believe he's going to be able to help us a lot this year."
Hoes is equally excited about playing for the Astros, calling them a "great, great, great team with a great history in a great city." But truth be told, he always aspired to play for the Orioles. They picked him in the third round of the 2008 Draft, and he developed into their Minor League Player of the Year in 2012.
Despite a scholarship offer from the University of North Carolina and a mother who to this day continues to stress the importance of education, Hoes signed with Baltimore right out of high school. He still wants to go back to UNC someday and earn a college degree, but he said part of the reason he signed was that his mother, Gale, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She's in remission now, he said, but at the time, that made his decision an easy one.
"If I went to school, it would have been three or four hours away, so I wouldn't have been able to see her," Hoes said. "I was able to come home whenever I wanted to see her. Actually, it was a blessing from God that I was able to be drafted by the Orioles and had the opportunity to play from them."
And he got to live out that dream -- for three games over two seasons, at least. He played in two games in 2012 and one more in '13 before Baltimore traded him to Houston on July 31.
"Now, [God] has a new plan for me," Hoes said, smiling. "I'm an Astro."
It may not be the opportunity he expected a year ago at this time, and it's certainly not the one he grew up thinking about. But Hoes is no less excited about how this one might turn out.
"It's great," Hoes said. "As long as we can stay together and grow together, that's the main thing. We're all so young, we can all jell together and grow and build something here. That's what we want to do.
"I feel like we have a bright future and a good team, so we've just got to keep working and keep developing."