NWL notes: Hearn flying high with Hawks

Outfielder making most of second opportunity in Rockies system

Matt Hearn leads the Northwest League in hitting at .376, propelled by an eye-popping .446 average in July. (Jared Ravich/MiLB.com)

By Billy Gates / Special to MiLB.com | July 27, 2018 10:00 AM

When Rockies prospect Matt Hearn was released after a Rookie-level assignment with the Braves last September, he was crushed.

"It rocked my world," he said. "I knew I wanted to keep playing, but I just didn't know where."

The unassuming 5-foot-9 outfielder with speed to burn didn't have the year he wanted with Danville in 2016, hitting .228 with 24 strikeouts in 34 games, and it sent the San Jose, California native down the road to find another ballpark to play in.

With his future in the game weighing heavily on his mind, Hearn went off into the unknown. He didn't know if another big league team would take a chance on him. He thought about going back to Mission College in Santa Clara, where he was a 24th-round pick of the Braves in 2016, and he thought about independent ball -- but simply didn't know much about that.

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He opted for indy ball and went to a tryout for the Frontier League's Gateway Grizzlies, located in the St. Louis suburb of Sauget, Illinois.

It was, quite literally, a life-changing decision.

"I was just so relieved that they wanted to give me a shot," Hearn said. "It was a nice spot for me to keep playing everyday, and it ended up being awesome."

Hearn played 89 games for the Grizzlies between 2017 and 2018, and was an offensive terror. He set the single-season franchise record with 30 stolen bases and hit .331 in 2017, but it wasn't without some challenges early on.

"I struggled at the beginning of the year, and the first couple weeks I was really down on myself," Hearn said. "I thought to myself, 'Can I really do this?' But once I got it going, the confidence came back."

Video: Boise's Hearn makes spectacular grab

With the self-assurance he needed, Hearn's path back to pro ball was there. His speed plays anywhere, and with his bat back in shape, the Rockies decided to give him another shot in the Minors. Hearn was riding home from a game on the Grizzlies bus, and out of respect for his teammates, Hearn couldn't exactly shout from the rooftops that he was back in affiliated ball.

"I kind of had to keep quiet in the back of the bus when I got the call, but everybody was looking back at me wondering what was going on," Hearn said. "It was pretty tough to hold my emotions in."

Now patrolling the outfield for the Boise Hawks, Hearn is thriving. He leads the Northwest League in hitting at .376, propelled by an out-of-this-world .446 (37-for-83) month of July so far. He also leads the league in hits with 50, is tied for the league lead in triples with four and sits fourth in on-base percentage at .420. He attributes his rejuvenated career to his mental approach of taking things as they come, day by day, and staying on an even keel.

"On days I don't do well, I just think about picking it up the next day," Hearn said. "If I do well, I continue to keep doing what I'm doing. It all came together as far as having fun, being blessed and loving the fact that I get to play baseball every day."

Hearn registered a five-hit game July 24 against Vancouver with four singles and a double. He used his wheels to run out a swinging bunt for that fabled quintet of knocks, but he has been working toward rounding out his repertoire at the dish.

"I've always used my speed, but I've been working on my gap power and put a lot of time in the offseason hammering that out," Heard said. "I've always stuck to my plan of having success the way I've been doing it, so I'm just going to be fast and get on base."

In brief

Sox, Hops punch tickets: Everett and Hillsboro are headed to the postseason after winning first-half titles in their respective divisions. The AquaSox, a Mariners affiliate, finished a game clear of Vancouver at 20-18 to win the North Division, and the Hops (D-backs) posted the best record in the NWL at 24-14 to win the South, three games ahead of Boise. Everett was 10-9 in both home and road games, and Hillsboro was propelled by the league's best home record of 13-6.

Bart is bashing: Salem-Keizer's Joey Bart, the No. 2 overall pick by the Giants in this year's Draft, is crushing it. In 17 games, the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket has seven homers, tied for second in the league. He doesn't have enough at-bats to qualify for league leaders in rate stats, but he's slugging .700 with an eye-popping OPS of 1.068. Spokane's Curtis Terry leads the league with 11 dingers, and Hillsboro's Francis Martinez is tied with Bart for second.

Billy Gates is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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