When examining any minor league system for an MLB team, anyone can write about the prized prospects, the ones with a pedigree, major league bloodlines or eye-popping numbers. And they have earned their ranking for one reason or another.
But you see, there are also those prospects outside the public eye who also deserve their day in the sun. And in this week’s spotlight, we’re going to focus on one such player – utility infielder C.J. Hinojosa.
This is a cool profile for me to do, because I have some firsthand experience watching him decimate my college alma mater – Texas State – during his college days at the University of Texas from 2013-2015. So without further ado, let’s dive into this week’s Skeeters Spotlight:
Hinojosa is not new to the Astros’ front office, having originally been drafted by the Astros in the 26th round of the 2012 MLB draft out of Klein Collins High School in Spring before choosing to attend Texas. Three seasons later, he was taken by the San Francisco Giants in the 11th round of the 2015 draft and spent four seasons in their minor league system before being traded to Milwaukee.
The Astros signed Hinojosa to a minor-league deal prior to the 2021 season, and he was hitting .314 with an .839 OPS – the best production of his pro career – for Sugar Land entering play on Sunday against the Albuquerque Isotopes. He has picked up the pace of late, hitting .347 with a .987 OPS over his last 30 games.
So what is the outlook for the 27-year-old? Let’s dive in.
There’s really not a whole lot of mystery to Hinojosa’s game, for the most part. Dating back to his days on the 40 Acres in Austin, he has always been a contact-first hitter with a penchant for swinging at many pitches in the strike zone’s general vicinity.
He had a 10.9 percent strikeout rate in three seasons with the Longhorns, and he’ll hit for a good average while putting the ball in play anywhere he goes. That has continued well into his pro baseball journey, where he is a career .280 hitter with a 13.3 percent strikeout rate in six minor league seasons.
There is something to be said for being able to consistently put the ball in play, especially amidst the sport-wide trend of strikeouts and home runs – and there absolutely is a spot for a player with Hinojosa’s bat-to-ball skills on any team.
However, in today’s game, being a low-power contact hitter does severely limit a prospect’s ceiling unless he is a wizard on defense. And while Hinojosa is a good defender dating back to his college days, I’m just not sure it’s enough to raise his overall profile when combined with his advanced age for a prospect.
Additionally, I’d be wary of drawing many sweeping conclusions from this season’s offensive prowess considering he had never shown the type of power he has this season prior to being in an offense-friendly league in 2021.
Prediction: Hinojosa is one of those guys who is caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, he has done enough in my view to warrant at least an initial look at the major league level. But on the flip side, his primary positions – second base, third base, and shortstop – are all covered by franchise cornerstones in Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa at least through the end of this season. So there’s no place for him to go.
It’s a tough spot that many current or former infielders in the Astros’ system have faced in recent seasons – such as former prospects J.D. Davis and Abraham Toro, who are now with the New York Mets and Seattle Mariners, respectively. He needs a major league shot, but he also needs regular playing time while playing against a league he has not progressed past the need for – which he would likely not receive if called up at any point the next few seasons.
He will get a major league shot soon, in my opinion – I just don’t believe it will be in Houston. I think Hinojosa will be flipped in the offseason to a rebuilding club so he can get the playing time he deserves starting in 2022.
France is fine: Starting pitcher J.P. France threw 8.2 innings for Sugar Land last week, allowing just two earned runs while striking out 12 hitters. France was also recently named the Triple-A West pitcher of the month for July.
Hot start: First baseman/outfielder Norel Gonzalez was promoted from Double-A Corpus Christi to Sugar Land last week, and wasted no time making his impact felt. Gonzalez went 7 for 19 with two homers last week, reaching base in nine of his 21 plate appearances and driving in four runs.
Last week’s scores
Aug. 2: El Paso 8, Sugar Land 7
Aug. 3: Sugar Land 7, El Paso 1
Aug. 5: Sugar Land 11, Round Rock 5
Aug. 6: Round Rock 4, Sugar Land 3
Aug. 7: Sugar Land 12, Round Rock 3
Aug. 8: Round Rock 3, Sugar Land 2