PHILADELPHIA -- J.D. Hammer's story is a familiar one.He could not see the catcher or home plate from the mound because of poor vision, posing problems early in his professional baseball career. But he got his vision checked following the 2016 season and picked out a pair of thick black
PHILADELPHIA -- J.D. Hammer's story is a familiar one.
He could not see the catcher or home plate from the mound because of poor vision, posing problems early in his professional baseball career. But he got his vision checked following the 2016 season and picked out a pair of thick black plastic frames to wear on the field. He could see.
Sounds a little like Ricky Vaughn in the movie "Major League," right?
"People have asked me to put on the skull and crossbones," Hammer said last week at Citizens Bank Park, referring to Vaughn's glasses in the movie. "But you've got to be a stud to have those."
The Phillies announced Wednesday that Hammer, 23, is one of eight additional players that will join the team in Spring Training as non-roster invitees. The others are right-handers Enyel De Los Santos and Tom Eshelman; left-handers Cole Irvin and Brandon Leibrandt; catcher Edgar Cabral; second baseman Scott Kingery (the Phils' No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline) and outfielder Andrew Pullin.
Hammer joined the organization in July in the Pat Neshek trade with Colorado. He will be one of the most recognizable players in camp because of his trademark glasses. Of course, he hopes to stand out for his performance on the mound, too.
The early returns have been encouraging. He went 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA in 12 appearances with Class A Advanced Clearwater following the trade, striking out 20, walking two and allowing eight hits in 15 2/3 innings. He posted an 0.66 ERA in 10 appearances in the Arizona Fall League, striking out 11, walking seven and allowing four hits in 13 2/3 innings.
Hammer said he thought he could not see the catcher's signs during his Rookie-ball season with Grand Junction in 2016 because of shadows. The catcher called for a fastball, but he threw a slider. The catcher called for a slider, but he threw a fastball.
"I was just beating up the catcher," Hammer said. "He came out to the mound and said, 'Do I need to start doing touches?' I was like, 'Well, aren't you putting down curveball?' He said, 'No, I'm putting down fastball.' So after the season I said, 'I've got to get checked just for the safety of others.' The eye doctor said, 'I don't know how you've been throwing without contacts or glasses.' It was literally like the movie. They were like, 'You really shouldn't be doing anything without them.'"
Hammer chose glasses over contacts because contacts burn his eyes.
"I was like, 'OK, if I'm going to do glasses, I might as well do something different,'" he said. "They kind of look like the Wild Thing, so I figured I might as well just go for it. I got teased last spring. I got called everything from Harry Potter to Professor, but it's kind of what I've been known for.
"But the glasses were a game changer. I don't know if I got better [in 2017] or if it was the glasses."
Maybe a little bit of both.
But if Hammer's success continues, he could be in line for a big league promotion. Talented relievers can move fast through a farm system.
"It always feels close," Hammer said. "You can get called up at any minute. But Fall League got me that taste. I was like, 'Wow, this is close.'"
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.