As part of my adventure down in Arizona in early March during Cactus League spring training, I was able to sit down with Milwaukee Brewers shortstop prospect J.J. Hardy, a top ten member of the Power 50 for some time and a young man regarded as one of the better shortstop prospects in the game. His defense is about as good as any Major Leaguer's already, and once his bat catches up, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with in Milwaukee for a long time. All this, and he isn't even 21 years old yet. He's starting the season in class AA Huntsville in 2003; with some luck, we may get a chance to see him in Milwaukee sometime next season. I want to thank J.J. for his willingness to do this for Brewerfan.net, and for Brewer fans everywhere. I also want to thank J.J.'s agent, Mike Seal, for setting this up and helping to make this my best spring training yet.
First off, tell Brewer fans about yourself.
"I'd say that I'm a pretty easy going guy, pretty friendly to everyone on and off the field. I don't have any enemies, I try to be nice to everyone."
What does J.J. stand for?
Tell me a little bit about your parents.
"We'll start with my dad. He went to the University of Arizona on a full-ride scholarship and played tennis. After college, he went on the tour for a little while and got his ranking up to #270 in the world and basically had to quit. He started the family after that. The traveling and the tour life wasn't working out so much. My mom was the #2 amateur in the world behind Nancy Lopez in golf. She is from Iowa and also went to the U of A on a full-ride scholarship, and my parents met there. My mom's career ended to carpel-tunnel in her wrists. She quit playing in competition, but now she teaches golf and my dad teaches tennis."
When did you start playing baseball?
"Very early, as soon as I could pick up a ball or a bat; I don't even know how old I was when I started playing t-ball, but it was pretty young, so I've basically been playing baseball my whole life."
Have you been an offensive player the whole time or have you ever pitched?
"I was always the shortstop/pitcher, and I was supposed to get drafted as a pitcher if I didn't get drafted as a shortstop. I was the closer at my high school, so I played shortstop and then came in and closed the games. I threw 94 once off the mound either sophomore or junior year. And every game I threw in my senior year I hit 92 or 93."
Did you play any other sports?
"I didn't play any other sports in high school. I played soccer growing up, played basketball, played racquetball, played a little bit of volleyball. I played soccer and a little bit of basketball on club teams. I still do play a lot of racquetball, but baseball's the only thing I played all through high school."
When did the scouts start showing up to watch you in high school?
"When I made varsity as a freshman I really got my name out there. Between my freshman and sophomore year I played in a big USA-wide tournament in Tucson. There were a ton of teams and they picked a junior national team out of that. I had a good tournament there. I think my sophomore year was one of my biggest years in high school and played a little on the USA national team and some summer teams. It really all started with my freshman year, though."
Did you pick up at some point that Milwaukee was the team that was most interested in you?
"I actually did. The local scout was Brian Johnson and he was at by far more of my games than any of the other scouts. I had the feeling it was going to be the Brewers that were going to pick me about a month before the draft, and I wanted to go to the Brewers. I had a feeling about them, and I liked that feeling, and ever since then it has turned out perfectly. A lot of scouts didn't think I could play shortstop and thought I was a better pitcher. I'm glad the Brewers believed in me and gave me a chance to play shortstop."
So you'd rather be a shortstop than a pitcher?
"Yah. I like playing every day. I wouldn't mind coming in and throwing an inning just for fun, but that's not going to happen. Being a shortstop is pretty much what I've always wanted to do."
Tell me about the day you were drafted.
"We had a party at my house that day. I had all my friends over, coaches and family came over. We listened to the draft on the internet and somehow we hooked up the cell phones to the phone line because we didn't know when I was going to get drafted, and we needed to get the call from the scout or my agent. We were all sitting around watching and listening to it and I actually did get the call from the area scout before it popped up on the internet. It was a great day. I wasn't completely sure that it was going to be in the second round, but I kind of had a feeling it was."
What kinds of things did you notice were different about pro ball once you got to Maryvale for the first time?
"You have to grow up. It's not like you are going to have someone over your shoulder telling you what to do all the time, you have to be more mature. Like they had postings all over the wall for where you had to be at what time. That was a little different for me, the pitching was a lot different for me because it was a lot better than what I'd seen in high school and just being around older people that were more mature than an 18 year old kid coming out of high school."
What things were going through your mind during your first pro season out in Ogden?
"I wouldn't say I was overwhelmed. It was the first time I was away from home, so that wasn't a big deal. It was getting to know all the different people and become friends with all of and just going off on my own that was probably one of the toughest things I had to go through."
What was your proudest moment of your first season of pro ball?
"I don't know if it was my first home run or one of the highlight-reel type plays I made on defense. Those type of highlight plays really get me going, they always put a smile on my face as I'm running into the dugout."
Was it a shock going right to High Desert and skipping Beloit going into your second season? Did they mention anything to you about it beforehand?
"They mentioned it to me a little bit, so I had an idea. In my first year, in my 35 games or so in Ogden, I grew up a little bit and knew what I had to do mentally coming into the season so I was ready for it. The experience in Ogden was good because I wasn't going into the next year blind, without knowing what was going to happen."
What was it like being one of the youngest players in the California League and then again in the Southern League?
"I didn't really think about it. Whenever anyone would bring it up, I'd just kind of shrug it off. I didn't want to think about being the youngest guy out there and look the other guys and say, 'Ooo, this guy is the old or this guy is this old,' I just wanted to go out there and play. I wanted to play like I could, at my best level, and not think about the ages. I just wanted to see what happened and go from there."
How did you react to the promotion to Huntsville?
Me, Corey Hart and Krynzel kind of had a feeling, we didn't know for sure, but we had been hearing the word that we might move up soon to Huntsville. Greg Riddoch came to a game in Rancho (Cucamonga, the Anaheim Angels' Cal League affiliate) and sat me down after batting practice. We went to the dugout, he asked me if I was healthy, if everything was feeling OK, and I told him everything was great. He said, 'Good, because you are leaving for Huntsville tomorrow morning.' It was kind of shock in a way, but it was great. I was stunned and I was happy at the same time."
What were the biggest challenges about Huntsville?
"At first, I went into it not really thinking to much. I did alright, and then I think I hit the wall. It was basically my first full season, I had played 100 games, and I just hit a wall. I was mentally tired, physically tired, my body was aching. I didn't know what it was going to feel like even though I had heard it from some people. I just hit a wall, the long season got to me a little too much."
What was the proudest moment of your second season?
"Getting moved up to Huntsville would have to be the biggest thing. Being one of the youngest guys in the Cal League and then being the youngest guy in the Southern League meant a lot to me."
Has your second spring training been any easier?
"Yes, it really has. Like I said about going into things blind, not knowing what was going to happen, my first spring training I was just a little guy running around, just following people and not really knowing what was going on. This year, I went into it knowing what was going to happen and it made it a lot easier."
Your defense at shortstop has been called "Major League ready" by a number of different sources. How big is the defensive part of your game in relation to your whole game?
"At this point, it is the biggest. It's something I've always worked on, it's always there for me. Hitting is not always there for me. It was there for me before I got drafted and then I guess I had a few holes in my swing and we had to change a bunch of things, and the pitching was a lot tougher. But defense is very important to me, it's the biggest part of my game right now. I'd like my hitting to get better, but defense will always be there for me."
As your offensive game progresses, would you like to be known more as an offensive player or a defensive player? Would you rather hit for high average or commit a low number of errors?
"I'd like to make it a little mixture. If you can't play defense, you are not going to make it as a shortstop. Hitting is a big thing, too. I've always wanted to be a .300 hitter, or whatever the highest I can be is. I don't really want to choose between one or the other. I know my defense is better than my hitting right now, but I want to get it to where my hitting is as good as my defense."
What do you consider your best specific trait?
"My personality, the friendliness, easygoingness, getting along with just about everyone. I can't really look at anyone and think bad thoughts, I just haven't been able to do that."
How much have your grown in terms of muscle/height, basically physical maturity, since you signed?
"That's been one of my hardest things to work on. I graduated high school at around 175 pounds and I think I've put on around 5 pounds since then. I was 175 pretty much from being a junior in high school on until this past offseason when I finally put on a few pounds. I've been the same height since high school, but I have added some muscle, gotten stronger."
Is that something the Brewers have been on you about?
"No, not necessarily. I talked to them about putting on weight, and they said 'Hey, you're young, you're going to put on weight as you get older and as long as you are getting stronger, that's all that really matters.' And I know that I'm getting stronger."
The Brewers have more or less pegged you as their shortstop of the future, and they haven't really had a long term answer at shortstop since Robin Yount, and that was 20 years ago. Because of both of those things, is there any added pressure?
"I've thought about that, people have talked to me about that, but I do my best not to think about it like that, because I don't want to put any more pressure on myself. But when I do hear it, it puts a smile on my face. I like to hear that, that's all I've ever wanted to do is play with a certain team for a long period of time, to play for the team that believed in me from the very start. I'd love to play for the Brewers for a long period of time."
Describe your philosophy of plate discipline. How important is it to take a walk, work the count versus just flat out getting a hit when you have a chance?
"The most important thing is that I've made it as a hitter so far. Last year, I walked maybe 30 times. I don't strike out much, I put the ball in play. But, I think working the count is huge. That is the one major thing I need to work on offensively, being selective as a hitter and getting on base more so I can help manufacture and produce runs. Doing that is a big thing."
Do you have a preference between right or left handed pitchers?
"I make different adjustments at the plate, but I hit both of them pretty equally, I don't have one side that I really stand out on hitting."
Will big slugging percentage/power ever be a large part of your game?
"I don't know if a huge slugging percentage will ever be a huge part. I'm a doubles guy, I'll hit a few home runs here and there. But more importantly, I want to try to get on base more and do my job at whatever position I am in the lineup, whether it be as a #2 guy that has to get the leadoff hitter to second base, or a 3 or 4 guy, or whatever. I just want to do whatever will help my team to win."
Do you have a preference towards which spot in the lineup you'd like to be in?
"I see myself as being a #2 hitter. It really doesn't matter as long as I'm playing in the big leagues, I'll be happy. But, I would like to be a #2 hitter."
What are the team's goals for you this season?
"My plate discipline is one of the bigger ones, they definitely want me to walk more, take more pitches, be more selective. I don't think they have any goals as far as numbers that they want me to accomplish, but just the plate discipline thing is what they want me to improve on."
What are your personal goals?
"I'd like to make less errors than I did last year and just get better defensively. Hitting-wise, I'd like to hit better. I don't want to set a specific number, but I'd like to hit high, higher than I did last year. Basically, improve even further in all the areas I improved on last year. For the long term, I want to have a career in the big leagues, have a career with the Milwaukee Brewers."
How confident are you that you will be a Major League contributor for a long time?
"I'd like to say that I'm as confident as anyone. I think you have to have a level of confidence in order to play. I don't think I'm real cocky or anything, I just see myself being the best I can, and I'm going to work as hard as I can in order to get to the big leagues."
Thanks again to J.J. for doing this and all of us at Brewerfan wish him the best of luck during the upcoming season, and in the future.
My second mystery player interview will be revealed to the Brewerfan.net public as early as the end of next week. My only clue to everyone is that he's a pitcher.
Email me with questions, comments or other shenanigans at firstname.lastname@example.org.