Notes From The Coast: Torii Hunter Jr. Aims To Carve Out Own Career

Image credit: Torii Hunter Jr. (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Our bi-weekly look at all the latest baseball news and happenings from out West.

It is not hard to see the resemblance between Torii Hunter Jr. and his father.

The facial features, the affable personality, the athleticism and highlight-reel defense—the similarities are striking between Hunter Jr. and his father, Torii Hunter, the five-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner.

At the same time, Hunter Jr. knows he can’t try to be his father. The Angels’ outfield prospect just has to be the best baseball player he can be.

“He was definitely more of a power guy,” Hunter Jr. said at the start of the season with high Class A Inland Empire. “I’m just trying to get on base any way I can and cause havoc when I get on base. I think we’re different in that way.”

The Angels drafted Hunter Jr. in the 23rd round out of Notre Dame in 2016. The selection was notable not only because of his bloodlines, but because he had very little baseball experience.

Hunter Jr. was primarily a wide receiver on Notre Dame’s football team and finished third on the Irish in receiving yards and touchdown receptions his junior year. His football commitments meant he got just 12 at-bats in two years on Notre Dame’s baseball team. He also missed the baseball season his senior year of high school after he broke his femur during workouts for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Hunter Jr., 23, is still catching up on at-bats. Through May 28, he is batting .247 with one home run, although with a promising .359 on-base percentage. He is also 8-for-10 in stolen bases.

“Just keep developing as a hitter, that’s super important for me right now,” Hunter Jr. said. “Swinging at strikes, not chasing out of the zone, hitting the ball hard whenever I’m making contact. Those are things that I’m focusing on this year.

“It’s definitely been a process trying to get to where I am today. But I feel like I’m getting there with the organization and a lot of guys around me pushing to get me where I am. I feel like I’m getting there.”

While his offense is still developing, Hunter Jr. evokes memories of his dad defensively. He has played all three outfield spots this season and excelled at them all, making diving catches and covering tremendous ground as an explosive runner with long strides.

“I did watch Torii Sr. a lot obviously growing up in southern California, and you don’t want to compare the two, but the athleticism is there,” Inland Empire manager Ryan Barba said. “You watch him out in the outfield and you see some similarities.”

That isn’t by accident.

“The way I play defense, I cherish that a lot,” Hunter Jr. said. “Watching my dad play, he played defense really hard. He was always trying to not let balls drop in the outfield, so I take that same mentality out there as well.”

There is still a long way to go for Hunter Jr. to make the majors. At this point, he’s just focused on going through the development process and keeping his father’s advice in mind.

“He’s always said just realize that it’s a long season, don’t get down after one bad game,” Hunter Jr. said. “Just be consistent and keep going. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

A’s Score With Acquired Prospects

The A’s have struggled to develop homegrown starters most of this decade. Sonny Gray, who was drafted in 2011, is the last pitcher drafted or signed by the franchise to amass more than 1.0 career WAR as a starting pitcher.

The A’s have had success, however, acquiring starting pitching prospects.

The A’s own the 10th-best ERA in baseball with a rotation made up largely of players they acquired as prospects in trades.

Frankie Montas, acquired from the Dodgers as part of the package for Rich Hill and Josh Reddick in 2016, leads the staff with a 2.40 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 60 innings. Chris Bassitt, acquired from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade in 2014, has a 3.27 ERA and is averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Even old standby Brett Anderson, back for his second stint with the A’s, was originally acquired as a prospect from the D-backs in 2007 as part of the Dan Haren trade.

Daniel Mengden (Scott Kazmir trade) and Aaron Brooks (Ben Zobrist trade) were also originally acquired as prospects. In all, 37 of the A’s 55 games this year (67.2 percent) have been started on the mound by player they acquired as a prospect in a trade.

There is likely more to come, too. Lefthander Jesus Luzardo, the A’s No. 1 prospect, was acquired from the Nationals in 2017 and is line to make his ML debut later this season. Righthander Jharel Cotton, also acquired in from the Dodgers in the Reddick/Hill trade, is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and close to returning, although he may start in the bullpen at first when he returns.

National Leaders

A number of West-based players finished among the college baseball’s national leaders at the end of the regular season.

New Mexico State second baseman Nick Gonzales led Division I with a .432 batting average. NMSU shortstop Joey Ortiz led the nation in hits (106) and runs scored (85) and tied for first in triples (10).

Arizona shortstop Cameron Cannon led the country with 29 doubles. Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman led the nation with a .580 on-base percentage and 73 walks.

UCLA righthander Jack Ralston went 11-0 to tie for the national lead in wins and win percentage. Fresno State righthander Ryan Jensen and Grand Canyon righthander Kade Mechals each went 11-1 to tie for the lead in wins.

UCLA led the nation with a 2.59 ERA. Oregon State was second with a 2.98 ERA.

Players from the West also ranked among the top in the country in lower divisions.

Azusa Pacific (Calif.) outfielder Cole Kleszcz led Division II with 27 home runs, and Chapman (Calif.) righthander Tyler Peck leads Division III with 150 strikeouts. The Master’s (Calif.) shortstop Aaron Shackelford led NAIA with 36 home runs and 99 RBIs.

Cavaco Goes Out A Champion

Keoni Cavaco has a chance to be drafted in the first round next week as a third baseman. He finished his high school career in style on the mound.

Cavaco, the No. 31 prospect on the BA Top 500 Draft Prospects list, closed out the seventh inning to earn the save in Eastlake (Chula Vista, Calif.) High’s 5-3 win over Poway (Calif.) in the CIF-San Diego Section Open Division championship on May 25. Cavaco, who is committed to San Diego State, went 2-for-3 with a run scored and a stolen base before taking the mound in the seventh inning and striking out a pair.

Cavaco also made a diving stop to rob Poway’s Kyle Nevin, the son of former big leaguer Phil Nevin, of a hit at third base.

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