Thursday, June 12, 2008

County star gets draft day call from Orioles

Mitchellville resident set to sign with team he’s followed since childhood

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L.J. Hoes frequently attended Bowie Baysox games when he was younger. After all, Prince George’s Stadium is just 15 minutes from his Mitchellville home, and he and his father would get a discount if he wore his team jersey.

Now, Hoes could be on track to return to his hometown ballpark. The Baltimore Orioles made him the 81st pick in the third round of the Major League Baseball draft last week, and he said he expects to bypass his commitment to the University of North Carolina and sign with the club in the coming days.

Hoes had said before the draft that the signing bonus money that comes with a third-round selection — around $650,000 — would be enough to sway him from college. Now he said he is eager to complete the contract negotiation process.

‘‘I’m just ready to get going and move on with my pro career,” Hoes said.

Hoes is the highest prep draft pick to come out of the county since Riverdale Baptist pitcher Bubba Nelson of Clinton was selected 52nd by the Atlanta Braves in 2000.

‘‘L.J. has a fast bat,” said Dean Albany, the Orioles’ regional scout. ‘‘He’s a seasoned kid. Nothing seems to faze him. He’s hit at every level he’s played in.”

Hoes pitched and played center field for most of his days at St. John’s College High School in the District and planned to do the same at North Carolina. But the Orioles drafted him as a second baseman, and he worked out for them at that position when he visited Baltimore before the draft.

The position isn’t unfamiliar to him. Last year he played second base in the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game as a member of Youse’s Maryland Orioles. Albany, who also manages that team, said Hoes’ skills could be a better match in the infield at the professional level.

‘‘He can play any position he puts his mind to. [But with] corner outfielders, they want lots and lots of home runs,” Albany said. ‘‘I think second base fits the mold of what he can do defensively.”

If Hoes signs, he said he would likely go to Sarasota, Fla., for extended preseason training, then join the Bluefield (W.Va.) Orioles, Baltimore’s Rookie-class affiliate, who begin their season June 17. If he plays his way through Baltimore’s system, he wouldn’t have to go far from home. The Orioles’ Class A clubs are in Aberdeen and Frederick, and its Class AA affiliate is Bowie. Those prospects pleased him and his family.

‘‘It was like a dream come true to be selected by my hometown team,” Hoes said. ‘‘My friends and family will get to see me play.”

One other player with county ties, 2003 Riverdale Baptist graduate Justin McClanahan, also was drafted. McClanahan, an Annapolis resident, was selected 999th in the 33rd round by the Toronto Blue Jays. He led Louisville with a .372 average and hit 12 home runs and 59 RBI this season as a junior.

E-mail Kevin Hilgers at khilgers@gazetet.net.