Legends' Hinze 'blows up' into minor-league star

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMay 28, 2010 

Signed as an undrafted free agent.

A .175 hitter over 27 games with the Lexington Legends last season.

Who knew Kody Hinze would be terrorizing South Atlantic League pitchers in 2010?

Nearly two months into the season, the Legends' 6-foot-1, 230-pound first baseman/designated hitter leads the SAL in home runs (12), RBI (50) and slugging percentage (.589), and ranks fourth with a .313 batting average.

Not even Hinze, a Houston native, expected this.

"No, I didn't think I would," he says. "I was just going to try to stay afloat and then it just happened to blow up into something big."

Fans can see what all the noise is about Friday, when the Legends open a six-game home stand and the first of two games against the Greensboro Grasshoppers.

Hinze, 22, was signed by the Astros after the 2007 season.

With a close-cropped head and a variety of tattoos, Hinze would stand out even if he weren't tearing the cover off baseballs.

His tats include a stacked I, IV, III (for "I love you") on one bicep, a sexy woman and the word Cream ("cash rules everything around me"). "It's just an old saying," he says of the latter. "I just love tattoos."

Just below his neck are a series of stars, similar to the logo of the Legends' parent club in Houston.

"I got them before I signed with the Astros," Hinze says, "and just got lucky."

Out of Angelina College in Texas, Hinze broke into pro ball in 2008 with the Greeneville Astros, the Appalachian League team then guided by Hinze's current manager, Rodney Linares.

In 55 games, the right-handed hitter finished at .269 with eight homers and 32 RBI.

Last year, he split time between the Gulf Coast League Astros (.262, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 32 games) and the Legends (.175, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 27 games).

Linares attributes Hinze's emergence this season to hard work and greater focus.

"The kid can hit. He will drive the ball," Linares says. "The good thing is that he's starting to recognize breaking balls, and he's doing a good job. I think he's got four or five home runs with two strikes, which is pretty good, and they've been no-doubters. They're home runs anywhere."

Hinze agrees that he is catching up with his former nemesis pitch, the curveball. But that's not all that is different since last year.

"I just changed my whole approach," he says. "I was looking for the ball down and swinging at balls in the dirt. Now I'm looking for balls up, and I'm getting it, and not missing them."

SAL foes are well aware.

Hinze is the league's Player of the Week for the second week in a row. He is the first player to win the award in consecutive weeks since Freddie Freeman of the Rome Braves in July 2008.

The week of May 10-16, Hinze went 11-for-22 (.500) with two homers, two doubles, seven RBI and five runs.

The following week, he "dropped" to 9-for-26 (.346) with three homers, four doubles and 12 RBI.

Hinze says he heeds some simple advice from Legends hitting coach Stubby Clapp.

"Just make sure never get (away) from our approach," Hinze says. "Stay with the same approach each game, each day."

Clapp says Hinze is consistent in his work habits and approach at the plate, and recognizing what needs to be done in situations.

"I think it's making it a little bit easier to understand the game, and that makes it easier to understand the pitchers that he might face," Clapp says. "And when you can see the ball, it makes it a lot easier to hit."

The rest of the Legends are hitting well enough — second in the league at .270 — that it is difficult to pitch around Hinze, who usually hits in the fifth spot.

Jose Altuve and Giovanni Mier, the 1-2 hitters, "have done a decent job of getting on base," Linares says. "Having them on and having to pitch to (Jake) Goebbert and (SAL batting leader J.D.) Martinez — or Martinez and Goebbert — and then having Hinze on their mind, it kind of puts a lot of pressure on the pitchers."

Who knew?

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