Phillies' prospect Hockenberry skips a level

Posted: July 03, 2014

LAKEWOOD, N.J. - Matt Hockenberry decided to take a nap after a Saturday day game while playing in the Gulf Coast League. He was feeling the effects of the Florida summer heat, and wanted to get a little shut-eye. His phone rang while he was sleeping, but he did not hear it. He did manage to wake up when roommate Brandon Leibrandt's phone rang, and Phillies minor league pitching coordinator Carlos Arroyo was on the other end of the line. He had this message for the 22-year-old Hockenberry: "Sleep at night, buddy."

Arroyo followed that by telling Hockenberry to pack his bags. He was headed to Lakewood to start his career in the Phillies' farm system. It was unexpected for the Temple graduate, as he jumped a level most college players have to endure.

"I was not expecting to come straight to low-A ball," he said. "When I first got drafted, my scout was hinting at going to the New York-Penn League in Williamsport, because that is where they send all the college guys.

"When I got down to minicamp in the GCL in Clearwater, a bunch of the college guys' names were called, and I was not one of them. I got a little frustrated because I was expecting to go there. Carlos Arroyo pulled me aside and said not to be frustrated, they just want to see me throw more."

The pitching coaches worked out some kinks with Hockenberry while in Florida. They concentrated on his high leg kick, and made sure he was bringing his leg straight down instead of swinging it. The tips helped, and Hockenberry turned in a 2 2/3-inning, five-strikeout performance in his only outing in the GCL.

Within 3 weeks of being the Phillies' ninth-round pick in the draft, Hockenberry made it to Lakewood. Yet before he was a part of the organization, he was a Temple Owl. He became the last Owl to be taken in the MLB draft in the 87-year history of the program, which became the victim of cuts by the school. He has strong feelings about the program being cut, and takes pride in being a part of what he called a "band of brothers."

"It was myself and my teammates and my coaches and our fans against the rest of the world," Hockenberry said. "Temple did not want to associate with the baseball team anymore. After the draft, when my name got called in the ninth round, it was a revival of the program. Now the band of brothers gets to live on."

As far as Hockenberry and the pitching Peterson brothers - Pat and Eric, who both transferred to North Carolina State and were drafted this year - the band of brothers will go with them. Now away from Broad Street, the form of the "band" has taken a bit of a different shape. Hockenberry is now coming out of the bullpen for Lakewood. It is something he has had to do before, but is embracing it now.

"You just have to be willing to accept your role," he said. "In the past, I got called out of a reliever situation for Temple, and I didn't want to accept the role, so I had a pretty bad season my junior year. But this isn't college anymore. They are paying me to throw this baseball, so whatever they ask of me is what I have to do to the best of my ability."

Just 2 months ago, he was taking finals in North Philadelphia. Now, he is getting paid to play minor league baseball. The adjustment has been easy. In fact, he enjoys not going to class, now that he has his diploma, of course.

"It's much better," he said. "It is so much easier to not have to worry about going to class, taking tests, actually physically going to class. It is a job now. It isn't just a college scholarship so you can get an education. It is much better for my baseball skills to fully focus on what I am doing with the game instead of having to deal with the late night tests and staying up all night writing papers."

Hockenberry was a criminal-justice major at Temple.

"Luckily, I do have a 4-year degree to fall back on, but I don't plan on using that any time soon," he said. "I am going to try my hardest to fulfill whatever the Phillies have for me, whether it is right now or in the future."

Hockenberry plans on taking the history of Temple baseball, and his band of brothers into the future, as far as his right arm will take him.

Prospect park

Catching up with five notable Phillies farmhands:

1. Roman Quinn, OF, Clearwater: Quinn has hit safely in three straight games, and six of his last nine. He hit a two-run homer Wednesday night against Dunedin. .252, 2 HR, 8 RBI

2. Carlos Tocci, OF, Lakewood: Tocci is seeing the ball well right now, accounting for five hits in his last four games, but none of them was for extra bases. Power remains an issue for the 18-year-old. .234, 0 HR, 17 RBI

3. J.P. Crawford, SS, Clearwater: Crawford had a stretch this week where he had three multihit games in a row, but has been hitless in three games since. He is slowly adjusting to High-A pitching. .224, 2 HR, 5 RBI

4. Maikel Franco, 3B, Lehigh Valley: Franco has not had a multihit game since June 24, and is hitting .143 in his last 10 games. .209, 5 HR, 31 RBI

5. Severino Gonzalez, P, Reading: Gonzalez has not been good or bad for Reading in his last few starts. He has let up at least two but no more than five runs in each of his last nine starts. 4-9, 4.91 ERA, 73 SO


On Twitter: @AndrewJAlbert01

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