Darrell Moody: Haniger provides surge for Aces
RENO — Baseball is a game of numbers. They define you like it or not.
Since being recalled from Double-A Mobile on June 10 , Reno’s Mitch Haniger leads all of professional baseball with 19 homers, 47 runs scored and 34 extra-base hits en route to a .390 average.
Impressive numbers to be sure, and when you mention them to Haniger and ask if he’s surprised, he just shrugs.
“I’m just trying to play well,” he said. “I’ve seen what I can do. I have high expectations for myself. I expect a lot out of myself.”
“He’s put up numbers,” Aces skipper Phil Nevin said. “Sometimes young players are fazed when they move up a level, but not him. One day I was thinking about sitting him after a couple of games, and he went out and hit a homer.”
Haniger has hit a lot of homers since coming to Reno. His 19 round-trippers ranks third on the team behind Kyle Jensen (22) and Peter O’Brien (21).
What makes Haniger’s homer number so impressive is he has played 53 less games than Jensen and 22 less than O’Brien, who had a short stint earlier this year with the Diamondbacks.
Haniger still doesn’t consider himself a power hitter, however, and he has no issue with being described as a gap-to-gap hitter.
“You don’t go up there trying to hit homers,” Haniger said. “If they happen, great. I look for pitches middle third and if I hit line drives fine. I’ve always had pretty good power.
“The Southern League was tough to hit homers because it’s humid and the ball doesn’t carry as well. There were a few times where I hit a ball and I couldn’t believe it didn’t go out. The ball carries much better here (higher elevation means lighter air).” Besides Reno, he’s playing in Colorado Springs and Albuquerque.
Haniger has had double-digit homer seasons the last three years, but this is his is best by far, and he’s done it at a higher level. He had five homers before his call-up.
“He can pull the ball, he can hit the ball to center and he can go off-field with some power,” Nevin said. “The most impressive thing is how he has adjusted. He has a professional approach to hitting.
“He keeps a book on pitchers. One game after he came up we faced somebody that he seen earlier in his career. He went back to his locker, grabbed the book and shared the information with the rest of his teammates. That caught my eye.”
Haniger said he talks hitting all the time. He soaks up information from his teammates, and he said he worked in the off-season with Matt Lisle, a hitting coach in California.
The Aces’ star said there hasn’t been a huge difference between pitching he saw at Double-A (Southern League) and in Reno (PCL).
“It’s the same,” he said.” he said. “In Double-A they might try to blow the ball by you more than in Triple A. It depends on the game. In Triple A there are more guys with (better) breaking balls.”
It seems inevitable Haniger is going to be in Arizona by the end of the season, whether it’s in September when the rosters are expanded or before. He says he has no time table.
“You get to Triple A, and you’re hoping to get to the majors,” Haniger said. “When you are in Double-A, you’re hoping to move up. Once you get into organized ball, you want to make the majors. Everybody wants to get there.
“It’s not up to me. I’m just trying to play well everyday I’m out there.”
Nevin also believes Haniger is going to get an opportunity.
“It’s not my call,” Nevin pointed out. “Do I think Mitch can play? Absolutely. I think he’s ready to go.”
The 2015 season tells a lot about Haniger. He hit .281 in 55 games with Mobile, but felt he wasn’t getting enough playing time, so he asked to go down to A ball in Visalia so he could show his wares. He bet on himself and won big time, hitting .332 with 12 homers and 36 RBI in 49 games.
That’s a dangerous game to play, but in Haniger’s case it worked. He made the Mobile roster at the start of the 2016 season, and was hitting .294 when Reno called him up.
“He’s been on anther planet all year,” said Aces pitcher John Omahen, who has played with Haniger at Mobile and Reno. “He’s been in his own world. He’s having a really good season.”