The Cal League has long been notorious as a hitter’s haven that skews prospects’ results often so dramatically that it’s nearly pointless to evaluate them. Pitchers post 6.00 ERAs there and quickly recover in Double-A, whereas hitters can hit .330 with power there and fail to be even average following promotions.
Astros first base prospect Kody Hinze seemed to be a likely candidate for one of those collapses. He was a completely unheralded, old-for-his levels player who raced out to 22 homers in 80 games in the Cal League this year. And not only was he in the hitter’s paradise league, but his home stadium in Lancaster was the most hitter-friendly park in the league.
So, you’d be perfectly forgiven for saying a month ago that Hinze would struggle if he was promoted to the harsher Texas League.
You’d also be wrong.
Kody Hinze hit .323/.458/.625 in the Cal League this season, a ridiculous statline that’s up there with any other minor leaguer. You’d think that would absolve him from a complete collapse, but compare him to a fellow Astros prospect, outfielder Jon Gaston. Gaston hit .278/.367/.598 with Lancaster in 2009, leading the minors with 35 homers, but he’s hit just 18 homers in a season and a half in Double-A.
So it’s certainly not unheard of for even the top Cal League sluggers to collapse. Hinze has not.
Granted, it’s just 19 games, but Hinze has kept right on pace in Double-A, hitting .348/.410/.623.
With Brett Wallace not exactly dominating in the big leagues for the Astros, there’s plenty of room for Hinze on this rebuilding team if he can keep it up.
And at this point, why won’t he? Hinze turns 24 tomorrow, so he’s a bit old for a guy who just got to Double-A, but he’s not just a one-dimensional slugger, as his batting average attests. He’s managed to draw 78 walks (!) already this season while still striking out under once per game, and he’s ripped 27 homers and 24 doubles, so the power looks like it certainly will play. And this didn’t entirely come out of nowhere–he hit .277/.377/.465 in Low-A last year, ripping 19 homers. This year’s big change, aside from the Lancaster craziness, has been Hinze’s dramatic increase of plate discipline, which could also play a part in him swinging at better pitches and thus ripping more balls over the fence.
There’s no question that he’ll continue to face doubters, and he can’t afford missteps in his development, but Hinze’s transition to Double-A is an extremely encouraging sign that he could be the long-term answer at first for Houston. In a depressing (34-70) year for Astros fans, at least Hinze is giving them something to be excited about.