After winning the 2017 Big 12 Conference Player of the Year, Hunter Hargrove entered professional baseball with confidence, but also with a willingness to make changes in order to improve his game. Nearly a year later, Hargrove is finally comfortable with the alterations he made with his hitting mechanics, and the results are showing on the field.
Over the past three weeks, there have been few hitters in the Midwest League as hot as Hargrove. A 15-game hitting streak came to an end on Monday, but Hargrove is batting .338 since May 5 and .351 over his last 10 games. The hot streak has raised Hargrove’s slashline to .317/.368/.398 in 34 games for the Low-A Beloit Snappers.
Hargrove – who has walked (11) more than he’s struck out (10) this season – credits his recent run of success to improved plate discipline.
“I think I’m seeing a little bit more pitches, and it’s allowing me to be more comfortable at the plate,” Hargrove said over the phone on Thursday. “I’m walking more. It’s just giving me an opportunity to get more good pitches and often enough put barrel on them.”
Hargrove also says his production stems from finally feeling at ease with changes he made to his hitting mechanics shortly after joining the A’s last season as a 25th-round pick in the draft. Although he hit .343/.423/.535 as a senior at Texas Tech, Hargrove felt a change was needed with his set-up to allow him to hit for more power in the pros.
“In college, I was in a deep crouch and was really low,” he said. “Once I got here, I stood up more and tried to get a little more power and get into more of my legs.”
Hargrove says the new mechanics took some getting used to, and he never really felt comfortable in the batter’s box during his pro debut season. He split the 2017 season between the A’s Rookie-level team in Arizona and short-season Vermont, hitting .266/.309/.364 combined at the two levels. Hargrove spent the offseason continuing his work with the new mechanics and says that by spring training, he felt good in the box again.
When camp broke, however, Hargrove faced another challenge: he remained back in Arizona at extended spring training, where he had to work for an opportunity with a full-season squad. That chance came on April 15, when Beloit first baseman Miguel Mercedes landed on the disabled list. Hargrove came to the Snappers determined to prove he belonged on a full-season roster.
Since that time, Hargrove has moved into a key role for the Snappers’ offense, taking most of his recent at-bats from the fourth spot in the order. Although Hargrove has yet to go deep this season, he seems to have found a home in the cleanup spot, where he’s batting .354/.389/.462 in 65 at-bats.
“I knew that I’d maybe have a chance to stay if I continued to hit,” he said. “I just went in there telling myself that even if it is a short stint, I wanted to prove to them that I deserve to be here. I went out there and played the game the way I knew how. It’s been a blessing.”
Being left back in Arizona on Opening Day was hardly the first challenge Hargrove has faced in his baseball career. He began his collegiate career at North Central Texas College before landing with Texas Tech after a year. During his first season with the Red Raiders, Hargrove had a bench role. His playing time increased as a junior, but he didn’t become a full-time player until his senior season, when he earned Conference Player of the Year.
Hargrove’s success as a senior gave him the confidence that he could play in the pros, but his draft day experience was a rollercoaster ride that didn’t end until the A’s called his name on day three in the 25th round.
“It was pretty nerve racking, to be honest. I got a couple calls on the second day. It kind of hurt a little bit because I didn’t really know what was going to go on,” he said. “The next day, I got a few text messages saying ‘if we take you today, we’re going to need you to leave right away,’ so I had everything packed and ready to go just in case something happened. Then I didn’t hear anything.
“It was about the 24th round when I got a text from my Oakland A’s scout (Chris Reilly) saying, ‘you’re on our draft board. We’re going to take you here.’ I was like, ‘okay.’ I was looking and then my name popped up on my phone. It was cool seeing all of the things I had worked for my whole life kind of come into play.”
Although Hargrove struggled to get comfortable with his mechanics last year, he enjoyed his pro debut season, in large part because of the success and camaraderie of the Lake Monsters’ squad that reached the league championship series.
“Last year in Vermont, we were a really close-knit team and that showed on the field,” Hargrove said. “A lot of teams have guys who venture out and aren’t really part of the team, but that’s not how it was in Vermont. We were all close and that definitely showed while we were playing. I think that’s why we were able to take it so far.”
This year’s Snappers’ squad is a mix of players from that Lake Monsters’ team, returning members of the 2017 Beloit team, as well as several younger players up from the A’s Rookie-level club. Hargrove, who lives with 2017 high school draft picks Austin Beck and Nick Allen, says the Snappers have gelled despite their varying experience levels. He says it’s also been fun facing many of the same players in the Midwest League that he squared off against last season in the New York-Penn League.
Hargrove’s skillset is reminiscent of another A’s prospect from a big Texas college program, former Baylor star Max Muncy, who began his career in the A’s system as a first baseman but has since expanded his defensive abilities to second base, third base and the corner outfield spots. Hargrove played all over the field in high school and college, but he has been limited to first base in the early portion of his professional career – with the exception of an appearance on the mound earlier this season. Hargrove says he’d feel comfortable adding more positions to his pro resume.
“They value me as a first baseman right now but I’ve got some groundball work at third base,” he said. “Wherever they need me to play, I’m happy to play, as long as I’m in there getting to swing.”
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