Things have been moving pretty fast lately for LJ Hatch.
The 28-year-old Albuquerque Isotopes infielder proposed 10 days ago to his now fiancée, Taylor Glaze, while the two were trying out the dream racing experience at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway (the Isotopes were in Nevada for a six-game series with the Las Vegas Aviators).
“She is a Speed Racer at heart, 100 percent,” Hatch said. “… She set up all the racing stuff and her mom and me kind of planned around that to get this done.”
Meanwhile, on the field, the New Mexico State University graduate is enjoying his best offensive season as a professional.
Although he was 0-for-3 with a walk in Saturday night’s 9-3 Isotopes win over visiting Sugar Land, Hatch is hitting .306 this season with five home runs (doubling his career output over his first four seasons), 15 RBIs and an OPS of .939.
And for a guy who was called up just one year ago (July 10, 2021) to the Triple-A Isotopes because of his glove and with just three career home runs to his credit at that point, Hatch has made it hard on his manager and the Colorado Rockies to just label him a defensive specialist anymore.
“He’s definitely been working hard on his offense,” Isotopes manager Warren Schaeffer said. “He has a consistent routine that he sticks to and he’s progressed. He’s gotten better consistently. And, I mean, he’s a professional hitter, man.”
When Hatch was called up to the Isotopes last July, he had already played in seven cities in what was then his fourth season of professional baseball.
In only one of those seven stops had he played more than 17 games before moving on to help plug a gap for another team in the Rockies organization that needed a steady defensive presence on the field.
But he managed to stick in Albuquerque. He completed last season with the Isotopes – 47 games in all – and hit .248 with two home runs, 14 RBIs and had an OPS of .689.
Now, it’s not only that Hatch has homered five times this season in 85 at-bats after having never had more than two homers in an entire season. He’s taken all five of those homers this season for a ride, averaging 408.8 feet per home run.
“He’s got a compact swing. And he’s a strong kid,” Schaeffer said. “He gets his bat in the right place to maximize his potential and to maximize his exit velo.”
Hatch said he and Glaze moved to Phoenix this past offseason, where he worked with a hitting coach and several professional players who live in the area, and simplified his swing.
As for the home runs not just being up this season, but impressive homers when he does connect, he credits that simplified approach.
“I’m just kind of trying to let the pitcher supply all the power, you know?'” Hatch said.
“The barrel does a lot of good things for hitters and we sometimes fall into the trap of trying to muscle that ball over the fence, but really just finding a way to put your barrel on the baseball as much as possible, that turns into good things.”
Schaeffer, a six-year minor leaguer tagged as a defensive specialist himself, credits Hatch for not only knowing, but embracing a role not everyone flourishes in – playing just two to three games in most six-game series and yet continuing to produce – defensively and now offensively.
“There’s not a lot of guys that can that can do that role and accept it and be good at it,” Schaeffer said.
“I mean, that was my role and I wasn’t as good as he is at it.”
‘TOPES SUNDAY: Vs. Sugar Land, 6:05 p.m., Isotopes Park, 610 AM/95.9 FM
PROMOTION: Independence Day fireworks, gates open at 4:30 p.m.
PROBABLES: Space Cowboys RHP Brett Conine (3-1, 6.49) vs. Isotopes RHP Zach Neal (5-4, 6.62)
SATURDAY: Carlos Perez launched a pair of three-run home runs to lead Albuquerque to a 9-3 win over visiting Sugar Land in front of an announced Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico and fireworks game crowd of 10,893.
Perez was one of four Isotopes with multi-hit games, including former Lobo D.J. Peterson going 3-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and a run scored.
Seven Isotopes pitchers combined to hold the Space Cowboys to seven hits and three walks.
TRANSACTION: The parent Colorado Rockies recalled right-handed pitcher Ashton Goudeau from Albuquerque on Saturday.
BOX SCORE: Isotopes 9, Space Cowboys 3
STANDINGS: Pacific Coast League