LJ Hatch is the Ultimate Utility Player
By Jason Dorow
“I don’t know.” Those were the first three words from LJ Hatch when asked what position he plays.
The sophomore from Shawnee, Kansas, has appeared at five different positions – shortstop, third base, second base, left field and center field – in 32 games as a Woodchuck, proving to be one of the most versatile fielders in the Northwoods League.
“It keeps the game fun, getting to play all the different positions,” Hatch said. “I think center field is the funnest out of all of them, but short is where everybody likes me.”
Hatch started in more than 50 games at shortstop in each of his two seasons at Johnson County Community College, one of the most successful junior college baseball programs in the country. Woodchuck head coach Jordan Bischel has found Hatch’s abilities applicable nearly everywhere on the field though.
“He is tremendously athletic,” Bischel said. “You can make the argument that he’s been the best outfielder for any team we’ve seen. He’s made five or six catches that not many guys make.”
LJ – which stands for “Little John,” a name he received from his brother and his friends at birth – didn’t even have an outfielder’s mitt when he arrived in Wausau. He had to borrow teammate Max Ponzurick’s glove for several games before his father brought him one from home.
Hatch credits his versatility on the field to athleticism, which developed from being a multi-sport athlete in his youth and in high school. He played baseball, basketball and football and also bowled while at Mill Valley High School.
His strength and hand-eye coordination show at the plate too, where Hatch is hitting .244 with a team leading nine doubles. Hatch was even better at Johnson County this spring. He batted .356 and slugged .596 with 15 doubles, nine triples, seven home runs and 47 RBI.
The two-season stint with the Cavaliers was the winningest in program history, as the team totaled 99 victories and was briefly ranked as the number one JUCO team in the country this March. Bischel says he can definitely see that winning attitude in Hatch.
“I think the biggest thing with LJ is he loves to compete. He is just an unbelievable competitor,” Bischel said. “He is a guy who from the first day didn’t like the feeling of losing a ballgame.”
With that mentality, transitioning to division one baseball may not be that easy for Hatch, who held offers from Kansas State, Murray State and Central Arkansas before committing to New Mexico State.
NMSU finished 11-38-1 this spring. However, the Aggies have a new coaching staff, which Hatch says won him over with their energy and youth.
The move will be an adjustment off the field too. After spending his first two years of college living at home with his family, Hatch will now be 16 hours from home in Las Cruces.
Despite the distance, transferring to NMSU should open more doors for Hatch. The Aggies coaching staff got him the opportunity to play for the Woodchucks, and Hatch wants to continue his push toward professional baseball.
“I’ve been talking to some pro teams, and they talked about taking me this past draft.,” Hatch said. “They didn’t call unfortunately. Hopefully in the next couple years with the help of Coach Green at New Mexico State, maybe we can make that dream a reality.”
Considering Hatch’s skill set, that dream certainly seems within reach. His versatility in the field and power at the plate are a rare combination, which, as Bischel notes, makes him a very unique utility player.
“Sometimes your utility guy is that scrappy guy that maybe isn’t a huge asset anywhere but doesn’t hurt you anywhere. It seems like you can put LJ anywhere on the diamond and not only is he going to hold his own, he is going to help you win a ballgame,” Bischel said.
Hatch may not be done working his way around the diamond either. Bischel told him that there’s a chance he gets an appearance on the mound to save arms as the season wears on.
Since joining the Woodchucks, Hatch has played in every game but one, and he’s consistently in the middle of the order. He could be anywhere in the field though, and no matter where he’s aligned defensively, Hatch’s bat and his glove will be assets for the Chucks.