The Gospel of Luke Hochevar
Luke Hochevar's road to Kansas City was turbulent.
His time in Royal Blue hasn't been any easier.
The Denver, Colorado native made a name for himself via the University of Tennessee. His collegiate career was highlighted by a 15-3, 154-strikeout senior campaign.
Those efforts earned him the Southern Conference Player of the Year and the Roger Clemens Award, which honors the top NCAA Division I pitcher.
The Dodgers—who drafted him in the 39th round out of high school in 2002—were foaming at the mouth to sign this young stud by the time he left Tennessee in 2006.
Then he signed with Scott Boras, and things got interesting.
Long negotiations, an agent switch (to Matt Sosnick), an accepted offer, another agent switch (back to Boras), reneging on said offer, end of negotiations, and an eventual stint in the Independent League ensued.
The average joe couldn't understand how a 22-year-old could turn down $2.98 million before ever throwing a pitch.
For God's sake, the great Mickey Mantle was signed for $140/week and a $1,500 bonus!
Luke Hochevar instantly became the poster child for unproven prima donna athletes.
Given the gamble he presented, the Royals naturally took him with their first overall pick—passing on the likes of Evan Longoria, Tim Lincecum, and Max Scherzer.
No matter, the Royals insisted he was big league ready and the best selection for their rebuilding club.
Fast forward to 2009 where Hochevar entered Spring Training still unproven.
23 starts at the big league level were not enough to solidify his inclusion in the rotation.
Many in Kansas City were conjuring up images of Colt Griffin, and chalking this up as another fail for a franchise locked up in a 20-plus year epic fail.
We KC fans may be a little jaded.
Then Hochevar dominated in Omaha.
Then he failed in Kansas City.
Then he dominated in Omaha.
Then he was called back to Kansas City.
This time with the "AAAA player" label.
This time, he's produced.
The 14 days he spent in Omaha on his second stint seems to have helped. Since his return, Luke is 3-1 with a 2.94 ERA and .174 BAA in five starts.
His complete game, three hit, one run, and 80 pitch performance on Jun. 12 versus the Cincinnati Reds was one of the most efficient outings in Major League history.
Still, he remains unheralded.
Can selfish behavior at such a young age skew public image beyond repair?
Hochevar's on-field comrade, Joakim Soria, came out of nowhere and immediately dominated. He was instantly hailed as one of baseball's elite closers, and rightfully so.
Soria decided to pitch in the WBC and ended up injured, but he was never second guessed for his decision.
Instead, his participation was used to boost the perception of his character; he was seen as loyal for choosing country over employer.
Never was his large—albeit cheap in many regards—contract brought up as a poor decision despite his lack of Mexicution this season.
Soria also signed said contract very quickly and out of the public view.
Maybe Hochevar and Soria's situations are comparable, maybe not. It sure looks like Luke doesn't want to risk it, though, and is attempting to make a public relations push:
In an interview on MLB Tonight: Roundtripper after his Monday night performance, Harold Reynolds asked Hochevar what the learning curve has been for him at the big league level.
Luke sarcastically responded, "There's been a lot, how much time do we have on this interview?"
He then proceeded to deflect all praise toward Bob McClure and the rest of the Royals pitching staff for showing him the way.
These do not sound like the words of a prima donna.
These sound like the words of a young man who has finally started to figure things out.
Maybe it's time we all cut Luke some slack, and enjoy watching the development of a fine young ballplayer.
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