Orem first baseman Wade Hinkle
is no stranger to gaudy power numbers. He's never been known as anything other than a slugger.
"I've always been a home run guy," Hinkle said before a recent game in Billings. "Playing first base, that's kind of the role I have to fill. If I want to move up I'm going to have to put up power numbers. But it's something I've always had."
A 27th-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels out of Kansas State in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, Hinkle has been a welcome surprise in the first month of the Pioneer League season.
Through 22 games entering July 11, the six-foot, 225-pound Hinkle was tied with Billings' Robert Maddox for the league lead with six home runs. He was in a three-way tie for second with 47 total bases and was the league leader in RBIs with 25 -- all while hitting .333 (25-for-75).
Clearly, Hinkle is putting up the power numbers he expects. But perhaps more impressive has been his ability to limit his strikeouts and consistently reach base.
Hinkle's .475 on-base percentage ranks fourth in the Pioneer League, while his .627 slugging percentage ranks fifth. His 1.101 OPS was tied for the league lead with Great Falls outfielder Kyle Robinson.
Hinkle had more walks (15) than strikeouts (13) as of July 11, and his 20 runs scored ranked third in the Pioneer League. Those are stats you don't see too often from power hitters like Hinkle.
"I take a lot of pride in my walks," Hinkle said. "I take a ton of pride in being patient at the plate. As a three-, four- or five-hole hitter, they say it comes with a lot of strikeouts. But if I'm getting on base I'm helping the team.
"All through high school I always had a good eye for the zone, and I carried it on through college. And here I've stayed patient, which is good. I'm getting pitches to hit. I've got to stick with that approach. My approach has always just been up the middle. I've never been a dead pull guy or a dead [opposite field guy]. I hit the ball where it's pitched, and that's where I've got to stick."
Longtime Orem manager Tom Kotchman says Hinkle still has a lot to work on defensively as an up-and-coming first baseman. But Kotchman also realizes Hinkle's value as a hitter so far.
"He's a left-handed guy that's got some physicality to him, and he has a pretty good idea of the strike zone. He doesn't get himself out. His approach is very good at the plate; he uses the big part of the yard. He's not afraid to hit a double to left-center and every once in awhile he'll hit a mistake out to right field.
"He's been a pleasant surprise offensively, especially with where he was drafted."
A native of Albuquerque, N.M., Hinkle played two seasons at Kansas State after transferring from Cochise College, a Junior College in Arizona. In his senior season at K-State he led the team with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs in 191 at-bats.
Solid statistics, no doubt. But Hinkle is well on his way to surpassing those numbers in his first year of professional baseball in Orem. Hinkle says his quick adjustment has come naturally.
"It's more about coming out and playing ball," Hinkle said. "It's the same game I've been playing my whole life, so that's really the big focus. I just try to come out and have fun every day and not worry too much about how the results are going and do more to help the team win.
"I never really expect anything with baseball. It's one of those things where I'm going to put the hard work in and see where it goes. I'm blessed with the opportunity to come out here and play, and that's all I'm trying to do."
Streaking: Hinkle isn't the only Angels farmhand hitting the ball with authority. Orem's Michael Snyder is currently rising a 17-game hitting streak, the longest in the Pioneer League this season. He was hitting .409 (27 of 66) during the streak, with two homers, 10 runs scored and 14 RBIs.
A big difference: Great Falls outfielder Kyle Robinson has experienced a renaissance in 2012. Robinson's .429 batting average led the Pioneer League as of July 11 and his 33 hits were tied for first. Robinson's .516 on-base percentage was also No. 1. It's a big turnaround for Robinson, who last year hit .204 in 51 games in the Appalachian League.
What about me? Missoula starter Andrew Barbosa has gotten a lot of publicity for his fine performances this season, but don't sleep on Idaho Falls hurler Andy Garcia. In four starts, the right-handed Garcia was 2-0 with a 1.14 ERA. Further, Garcia had struck out 21 while walking just six, and his WHIP was a miniscule 0.93.