In an organization that relies heavily on the draft and it's farm system to produce players for it's major league team, there is often a lot of pressure on high draft picks by the Rays to perform well immediately and they are very closely monitored by Rays' fans.
But under the microscope of a rabid fan base, 2011 first round draft pick Jake Hager is not succumbing to the lofty expectations that are expected of him.
"For someone his age to be carrying around the accolades and expectations that are associated with him, he does it quite well", Princeton Rays general manager Jim Holland told me last December. "He has a very quiet maturity about him and you can tell he loves this game. Jake Hager is a tremendous young man."
The 18-year-old shortstop goes about his business in yeoman-like fashion and seems to be up for the challenges of taking his game to the next level. Furthermore, he seems to realize that being a professional baseball player is about more than just performing on the field.
"Jake is very workmanlike in his approach to everything. He quietly comes in, does his work, and seems to always stay in focus for his next step of whatever he is doing," Holland continued. " Away from the field, he was great in working community events for the Princeton Rays, and being very respectful of what we do as a front office staff. I really look forward to following his career from here on out."
With precious few shortstops at the big league level who can do it all, Hager is focusing on all aspects of his game this off-season to try and become the most complete player he can be.
Even when not under the watchful eye of the Rays' coaching staff, he continues his "workmanlike" ways and is gearing up for the 2012 season by rising early in the morning to begin working on his game.
He told me about his preparations this winter after a workout at the recent Winter Development Program.
"I have a routine every day. I work out at 5:30 in the morning and then I go hit around 2:30 every day - 5 or 6 days a week. That's pretty much it. I have a routine every day and do what I need to do."
"Really I've been doing everything. I've been hitting a lot. I've been fielding. I've been working on my speed. I've been in the weight room getting after it and trying to gain a little bit of weight."
The Nevada native has plenty of company from the baseball world while he is working out this winter.
"I work out a place called Tim Soder Physical Therapy (TSPT). I work out with a couple of big leaguers, some college kids, some minor league players and we're just going through a lot of speed work and a little bit of power lifting. A little bit of everything - baseball lifts. We do Plyometrics and it's going very well over there."
One of the minor leaguers he spends time training with is a player who is also a former Rays' top draft pick - first baseman Jeff Malm.
"Jeff Malm is my workout partner at TSPT and we get a long very well. We're great friends."
Hager had a .962 fielding percentage in 46 games last year for Princeton, but doesn't mind picking the brain of older players in the organization to help him improve defensively. He was spotted chatting recently with Rays' shortstop Reid Brignac and told me about their conversation.
"I'm doing a throwing program and we were just going over the way my arm motions is going to be. I'm trying to get that right throwing motion down and get more carry on the ball. So that's what we were talking about."
Holland for one, already thinks highly of Hager's defensive ability.
"I always enjoyed watching Jake play, especially defense. We usually are really busy during the game but if I would see a ground ball head his way, I would usually stop to watch."
The honor of being selected to participate in the Winter Development Program was not lost on Hager and the opportunity to be in St. Petersburg seemed to mean a lot to him. But even though there was lot of hard work involved, it wasn't all business for Hager - he had some fun too.
"I'm having a blast. Being able to come down here - and being one of the 28 players to come and work at this workout - I'm very fortunate. I'm very blessed to be down here and it's been fun. Going to the Air Force base, going to the hockey game, coming here and being at the Trop working out with everybody - with great players all around - it's been a great time. I'm having a blast."
John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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