Halo Hangout recently stopped by the home of MiLB affiliate for the LA Angels, the Inland Empire 66ers, to speak with one of the new end of season call-ups. This is a certain player we’ve all been waiting to see, and one who definitely deserves the attention and hype. That player happens to be outfielder for the Inland Empire 66ers, Torii Hunter Jr.
LA Angels prospect Torii Hunter Jr has an evolved sense of athleticism you don’t see too often. It’s true that many athletes are of the dual-sport type, but few were as talented or dominate in both fields as Torii Hunter Jr was with his baseball/football career throughout his formative years. Not only was Hunter Jr an explosive wide-out with Notre Dame, he was a team leader and motivator, being regarded as the “second-coach” to Fighting Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock.
That sounds familiar, a highly athletic player who takes charge as team leader and wears the responsibility with pride?
Sounds a lot like his father doesn’t it? Of course who I’m referring to is the legendary former Angels outfielder Torii Hunter.
Athleticism runs in Torii Hunter Jr’s blood, it’s simply embedded in his DNA; you can see it not just in his dual-athletic excellence, but from the excellence of his brothers Darius and Monshandrik Hunter (both college football talents). If sporting is the Hunter family business, there may not be a family around that does it as well as the Hunters.
Torii Hunter Jr is a prime example of that.
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Only eight games into his time with the Class A Advanced 66ers, MiLB affiliate of the LA Angels, and Torii Hunter Jr is displaying his natural talents with force. His first game as a 66er saw Hunter Jr attack the opposition for three hits and a run. His next game would be a hitless affair, yet it stands as his only hitless affair with the 66ers to date. That specific debut with the 66ers is the culmination of not just this year, but many years of practice and patience for the young Hunter.
In college Hunter Jr didn’t see too much time on the baseball fields, playing only 23 games with a total 12 at-bats recorded. Football was another story however, with Hunter Jr collecting a total 521 yards on 38 receptions in 2016. One of Hunter Jrs biggest concerns coming into MiLB was catching up to his hitting, as he didn’t get much time to work it out with the Fighting Irish.
Given his current MiLB slash line of .291/.369/.383 throughout 157 total career games it appears that Hunter Jr is finding his pace as a professional hitter.
Torii Hunter Jr #9
H.H: You’ve gotten off to a hot start with the 66ers. How are you feeling at this point of your development with the Angels?
Hunter Jr: It’s been pretty good, I can’t complain. I’ve been trying to work on my plate discipline and swinging at strikes. Mostly staying in the zone. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the course of this year. There’s obviously things I still need to work on mechanically, different things like that. I’ve just been going out there and letting my athletic ability show. This offseason I’ve really tried to hone in on different things and get better for next year.
H.H: How are you enjoying the environment in High A?
Hunter Jr: There’s a lot of good guys here, I’ve played with most of the guys here whether it was last year in extended [Spring Training], or over the course of playing in Burlington. I’ve played with a lot of these guys, a lot pitchers and position players. I didn’t really miss a beat coming into the locker room, I knew everybody. It’s definitely a great environment.
H.H: What kind of goals did you set for yourself coming into the season, and do you feel that you’ve met them?
Hunter Jr: I did, I wanted to get a promotion at some point during this season. That was one of the goals I set for myself. When I finally got it, even with though it was close to the end of the season, it’s what I’ve been working for. I’m keeping my head down and developing as much as I can, learning as much as I can. I’ll have a more concise goal next year for what I want to do. I definitely want to continue to hone in my skills this offseason and try to become a better player next year.
H.H: Is there a particular aspect of your game you’ve focused on developing as the season comes to a close?
Hunter Jr: Continuing to develop as a hitter. It’s an area where I’m kind of behind considering I didn’t play a lot in college. I just want to continue to develop as a hitter. My defense is one of my strengths, my speed and different things like that. I want to focus on hitting and getting better in that aspect.
Slash Line as 66er: .333/.375/.400
It’s very apparent Torii Hunter Jr is starting to catch up to the learning curve of Minor League Baseball. Back in Low A Ball Burlington Hunter Jr saw his fair share of ups and downs. While he hit .255/.335/.349 overall he did find himself seeing his share of hot streaks, at one point hitting .340/.397/.453 over a twelve game stretch. The month of May saw Hunter Jr .294/.364/.348, his potential to rise through the Minors and become settled with the Big League Angels was apparent, all that was needed was for Hunter Jr to show that he could put it all together.
That’s exactly what he’s been doing with the Inland Empire 66ers. Hunter Jr would say that his hitting is a bit behind given his lack of at-bats in college, yet the ability and the abundant competence he’s shown with his bat at the High A level of Minor League Ball displays his athletic ability to grow and adjust to any challenge that rears its ugly head.
For Hunter Jr the biggest challenge to date came from escaping extended Spring Training last year. Back in 2017 Torii Hunter Jr was assigned to extended, a place where he’d get the chance to really work out the gap between his minimal college baseball hitting experiences and the amount of reps needed to really become acclimated with the expectations of professional baseball.
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It’s been a mountain of hard work for the young Hunter Jr, but as they say, you’re only as good as the work you put in. What we’ve seen from Hunter Jr is a level of hard-work and dedication that is almost certain to take him all the way to the top.
2017 Slash Line: .352/.432/.441
H.H: What are some of the biggest lessons you learned in Burlington [Low A Ball]?
Hunter Jr: Focusing on continuing to develop, they preach that a lot. Just trying to figure out who you are as a player and working on the different things they tell you to focus on. Swinging at strikes; always making sure you’re swinging at strikes, when you do that good things will come. Never letting your defense slump, always focusing on defense and arm strength. Really just focusing on my development.
H.H: Did you face a lot of difficulty balancing football & baseball in high school & college?
Hunter Jr.: It wasn’t that tough in high school. Whenever one season started the other wasn’t demanding as much, whereas in college both sports are kind of doing things year round. You get tugged both ways.
It was definitely a lot tougher in college; not getting a lot of sleep, coming in from baseball games and having to go into spring practice the next morning at 5am. That was tough in college for sure, that was a grind. It all paid off in the end. I’m here now and working my way up.
H.H: What adjustments have you made with your approach at the plate throughout this season?
Hunter Jr: It’s a matter of trying to figure out what my weaknesses are, what my strengths are. Seeing how the pitchers are pitching me. Once you figure that out you start thinking in game, thinking about what he’s trying to do to me. I think I’ve had a lot of success over the course of this year.
It’s just a matter of knowing the opponent, knowing the pitcher and knowing what they’re trying to do to me. It varies from pitcher to pitcher, team to team. The quicker you can figure it out the more success you can have.
H.H: Do you have your eye on playing with Mike Trout in the near future?
Hunter Jr: [laughs] You know, if I can get up there and play with him that would be awesome. He played with my dad and to be able to play with him….that would be pretty cool. To say that my dad and I got to play with Mike Trout, one of the best players in the world. It would definitely be awesome to get up and play with him.
Torii Hunter Jr #9
This last month of the Class A Advanced season is a punctuation on a year of hard work and intense dedication for Hunter Jr. He’s prevailed time and time again; not only over his own self-doubts (which is a normal part of the MiLB learning experience), but also the purgatory of extended Spring Training. Hunter Jr may have the genetics of MLB stardom from his father, Torii Hunter, but that doesn’t go for much if you don’t have the will and gumption to navigate and eventually dominate the various level of the MiLB.
Nobody can do that for you except yourself, no matter how star-studded your DNA is, and Hunter Jr has learned to fully embrace his talents and potential en route to a magical career of his own.