Paul Hoilman’s power transferred nicely from college to professional baseball. The former East Tennessee State first baseman set a club record with 17 home runs last season for the Boise Hawks.
Now Hoilman is focused on becoming a more well-rounded hitter. He expects a higher batting average and fewer strikeouts as a second-year pro.
“I had a successful first season,” Hoilman said Thursday from the Chicago Cubs’ spring training facilities in Mesa, Ariz. “I really hit more home runs than I expected, but my average and the strikeouts were not what I wanted. I hope to improve on those two aspects and keep the power numbers the same.
“I’ve been working hard here on my mental approach at the plate — how I approach every at-bat. That’s the main thing I’m taking into this season.”
Hoilman was a 19th-round draft pick of the Cubs last June and was shipped out to Boise of the Northwest League, where he hit .252 and drove in 44 runs in 71 games. He struck out 105 times in 246 at-bats.
Hoilman came home to Johnson City and dedicated the offseason to improving his fitness, with long hours in the weight room. He’s trimmed his 6-foot-4 frame from 240 pounds to about 225.
“I’ve worked a lot on my body,” he said. “I’ve improved my diet, lost weight and gotten stronger. I figure I’ll be a little more athletic and quicker around first.”
The Science Hill product has spent almost all of June in Arizona, with thoughts that he’ll be heading to Peoria, Ill., early next week. The Peoria Chiefs play in the Midwest League and open their season April 5.
“It’s A-ball, a full season, so it’s one step up,” said Hoilman. “It’s the same league where Chas (Byrne, his former Science Hill and ETSU teammate) played last year. He said it’s pretty chilly early on, but that the travel’s not bad and it’s a nice league. I’ve heard from a couple of people that the ball carries well to left field in Peoria, and I’ll never argue with that.”
Hoilman has already learned a lot about the grind of professional baseball. While a long summer takes a physical toll, the key is to stay sharp mentally, day after day after day.
“I’ve always thought baseball, and hitting in particular, is very mental,” he said. “So much of it is what your approach is and what you’re planning to do when you’re up there.
“I’ve never played 140 games in a season, and there aren’t many days off. But I’ve got my body and mind about as prepared as they can be heading into this thing.”
Hoilman was one of three ETSU players drafted last year. Catcher Derek Trent of Kingsport is with the Pirates organization and is currently in spring training in Bradenton, Fla. Pitcher Bo Reeder, meanwhile, has apparently moved on with his life after 16 appearances as a reliever last season with the Pulaski Mariners.
Hoilman understands why few players ever get a sniff of the major leagues.
“This is definitely not a normal life,” he said. “I’m a long way away from home right now, and I’ve been in a hotel room for the last month here. It’s a lot of hard work, with little time off and little pay, and you gotta love it. Baseball, more than any sport I’ve ever played, you go through so much failure, and it can take a toll. You gotta love it.”