AFL Road Trip: Hodges No Deer In Headlights

PHOENIX — This time last year, Wes Hodges was about to start deer hunting and, when he wasn’t doing that, he planned on relaxing on his couch back in Georgia.

Asked Tuesday if playing in the Arizona Fall League was better than deer hunting, the Indians’ 2006 second-round draft pick broke into a grin and shook his head.

“I don’t know about that,” Hodges said.

Don’t read anything into his comment. It’s no big deal because Hodges acknowledged that he is having a blast playing for the Surprise Rafters, whose manager, Triple-A Norfolk’s Gary Allenson, has him batting third and playing third base.

Entering Tuesday, Hodges was batting .362/.388/.681 with four home runs, three doubles and a team-best 13 RBIs.

It’s the fourth-best batting average on the team behind the Orioles’ Brandon Snyder (.393), the Indians’ Stephen Head (.375) and taxi squad member Justin Smoak (.375). Orioles 2007 first-round pick and Hodges’ former Georgia Tech teammate Matt Wieters, who got off to a hot start, has somewhat cooled, batting .324 through his first 37 at-bats.

“He reminds me of a guy I had in 1989, Tim Nehring, only with more power,” Allenson said of Hodges. “He does a real good job of pulling his hands in and going the other way when he needs to. Obviously to be a good hitter, you need to get your pitch. And he’s doing that.”

It’s all part of a nice season for Hodges, who spent last offseason trying to learn from his first season in pro ball. The former Yellow Jackets standout hit .288/.367/.473 at high Class A Kinston in 2007 and missed three weeks in order to nurse a hamstring and broken toe.

He is working on his third base defense in Arizona, although it has been difficult as Surprise pitchers are not generating a high number of groundballs, with only 1.18 for every flyball.

Allenson said Hodges probably needs more arm strength to play third in the majors.

“My arm has been bugging me a little bit,” Hodges said. “I made some throws the other day and it’s a little sore.” Hodges said he is not overly concerned about the soreness at this point.