Professional Career Off To A Strong Start For Paul Hoenecke
Aug. 17, 2012
MILWAUKEE - Former University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee baseball player Paul Hoenecke has had quite the rookie season while playing for the Arizona League Los Angeles Dodgers.
In fact, he currently has one of the highest batting averages across the league and is among the leaders in runs batted in, total bases, extra-base hits and slugging percentage - all despite missing two weeks due to an injury.
"Coming into the season, I was confident in my abilities to have success at the pro level because of the fundamentals I learned at Milwaukee," Hoenecke said. "Scotty (Doffek) knows a lot about hitting and after playing in and watching games down here, it really solidifies that the way we did things at Milwaukee is the right way. As far as numbers go, I am really just trying to focus on my next at bat, rather than the last one, whether it be a strikeout or a homerun. The main things I am trying to work on are focus and dealing with failure, which isn't always the easiest in the heat of Arizona. Right now I am just trying to compete, play with a chip on my shoulder, and represent the Dodgers the best I can."
Hoenecke capped his collegiate career with First-Team All-Horizon League Utility honors as a senior and had a very solid four years with the Panthers. He became just the eighth player to record over 200 hits in a UWM career and finished fifth all-time with 242. In addition to that mark, he set the program record with 803 career at bats and ended up second in games played with 211, second in doubles with 63, sixth in runs with 135, sixth in RBI with 133 and fifth in total bases with 349.
Despite all the great numbers and accolades, he did not know what to expect heading into the MLB Draft. He did get to see a pair of teammates get taken, with Jordan Guth being selected in the ninth round by the Philadelphia Phillies and Eric Semmelhack by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 12th round. That marked the first time more than one Panther had ever been selected in the same draft. Hoenecke was about to make that an unprecedented trio.
"Getting drafted by the Dodgers was something I feel extremely blessed to have had happen," Hoenecke said. "It is satisfying individually, but really I couldn't be happier for the program because it is the first time three Milwaukee players have been picked in the same year. It's great to be one of four former Panthers [Chad Pierce is the fourth of the group] playing professional baseball, which is not something a lot of northern programs can say. It really shows the hard work Scotty (Doffek), Cory (Bigler), Mike (Goetz) and our entire team put in and I'm positive bigger and better things are on the horizon for the program. I also had great support from my parents, family, coaches and teammates. It's safe to say I wouldn't be where I am without them."
Hoenecke has some extra perspective on the MLB Draft. He is talented enough to have been drafted twice by Major League organizations, with the Detroit Tigers taking him after his senior year in high school following an impressive prep career. He was named the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel State Player of the Year as a junior and senior, batting .483 with nine home runs his last season in addition to going 8-0 with a 0.91 ERA on the mound. He was player of the year in the conference, district and state and earned first-team all-state and all-league honors. That followed a 34-1 team record and state title as a junior, when he set school records with his .515 batting average, 67 hits, 59 runs batted in, 19 doubles and 39 runs scored.
"Out of high school, I was a later-round pick by the Tigers and really didn't have a lot of intention on signing because I was 17 years old and still had a lot of work to do," Hoenecke said. "After being drafted by the Dodgers this summer, it is definitely a different feeling than being taken out of high school. I've been tested a lot the last four years and it's probably more gratifying knowing I stuck with it regardless of being drafted or not. I feel like I have much more of a respect for the game and realize how difficult it is to be where I am at currently. In that aspect, I had much more of an appreciation for being drafted this June."
Most kids grow up wanting to be a professional athlete, but the easy truth is the numbers are stacked against it. The odds say about five percent of high school seniors that play baseball even go on to play at the collegiate level and less than one percent end up getting drafted. For Hoenecke, despite growing up in Wisconsin, seeing the Los Angeles Dodgers were the team that selected him was a welcome sight.
"After watching the second day of the draft and not hearing my name called, I decided I was not going to watch the last day," Hoenecke said. "So I went to the beach with my buddy and didn't bring my phone. When I got back later in the day, I saw my phone was filled with texts and missed calls and saw it was by the Dodgers and I couldn't have been more excited. Going into the draft, I felt like my only chance of getting drafted was by the Dodgers, and when it finally happened I was just happy to get the opportunity to continue playing the game I love and that I wouldn't have to enter the real world."
After getting drafted, Hoenecke found out he was going to Arizona to play for the Dodgers rookie league team in the Arizona League. Just a few weeks removed from his final at bat as a Panther, he stepped up to the plate as a professional, the start of chasing a dream of someday ending up in the big leagues.
"My first at bat or hit wasn't really that memorable, but what stuck with me was that my first game was against the (Arizona League) Brewers," Hoenecke said. "It was a little weird because I was playing left field, a position I have never played in my career. And I grew up a Brewers fan, so it was nice to have a good game against the team I used to root for." [Note: Hoenecke went 4-for-5 with a home run and four RBI]
The statistics so far this summer are very impressive when you look at them. In his first 30 games, Hoenecke was batting .402 - the second-highest average in the league - with 24 runs scored and 32 runs batted in. He has 17 doubles, four triples, four home runs and a .705 slugging percentage. And it's only gotten better - so far in August he is batting .472 in 14 games, driving in 14 runs and recording more than half of his hits for extra bases.
"I think the biggest key to my success so far has been the ability to get into a daily routine," Hoenecke said. "It is nice to show up at the ballpark and devote 100 percent of my focus to getting better that day instead of worrying about when my next presentation is due. The Dodgers' facilities at Camelback Ranch are top-notch and it is easy to get into a comfort zone when you show up to work every day. The fact that we play every day also helps, because if you have a bad game there is always tomorrow. And so far, I haven't felt the need to press. I'm just trying to learn and get better every day and give the Dodgers a reason to keep me a part of their organization."
There are plenty of adjustments that first-year professional baseball players have to go through. More than likely, they are miles away from friends and family. Although they typically go through some long road trips in college, it's nothing like the daily grind of a long summer of professional baseball. And then, after a lifetime of using aluminum bats, the players have to make the transition to using wood bats. Not everyone pulls it off as quickly as it appears Hoenecke has this summer.
"I have always enjoyed hitting with wood bats, so the transition has gone pretty smoothly for me," Hoenecke said. "Using wood has helped me cut out some of the extra movement in my swing and I've really just been trying to let my hands work."
And, despite being close to 2,000 miles away from where he grew up, Hoenecke has had some time to make himself at home with the area.
"It's hard to do a whole lot in Arizona because of the heat, but I'd say the best thing I've done so far is go back to the Dave and Busters in Tempe - which I was at in 2010 when we made the ASU Regional," Hoenecke said. "It wasn't the same without Eric Semmelhack and Greg Blohowiak by my side in the arcade, but it was still a good time."