Focused winter has Hosmer primed for Year 2

February 20th, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- It's been one year since put pen to paper on what was the most lucrative contract in Padres history, a record that will change once Manny Machado's reported 10-year, $300 million contract with the Friars becomes official.

From the day Hosmer signed last February, it was a whirlwind. The same morning Hosmer was introduced in a press conference at the Peoria Sports Complex, he was on the main practice field, taking part in the first full-squad workout.

Hosmer spent an entire offseason wondering where he'd end up. In what felt like an instant, he had a new team, new teammates, a new league and newfound expectations. Suffice it to say, Year 1 didn't live up to those expectations.

The 2018-19 offseason was different. Perhaps, Hosmer's '19 season will be as well.

"I just got to focus on baseball this offseason," said Hosmer, who reported to camp on Monday. "That was probably the best part about it. I didn't have to be a lawyer or an agent. I just worried about training, about getting my body in position to take on 162 games."

Hosmer had the stability that eluded him a year ago. And he used it to his full advantage. After a year in which Hosmer batted .253/.322/.398, there were adjustments to be made. And so he got to work on making them.

Most notably, Hosmer's negative average launch angle needs to change. The Padres don't feel as though a major overhaul is required, and he won't suddenly become a fly-ball machine in 2019. But if Hosmer can drive the ball in the air more frequently -- and generally to the opposite field, which is his strength as a hitter -- he'll be better off for it.

To that end, Hosmer was in constant communication with hitting coach Johnny Washington. He'd take video of himself hitting in the cage and send the clips to Washington for analysis. On multiple occasions, Washington flew to meet Hosmer in South Florida.

"We put some emphasis on getting the ball in the air, driving the ball, getting back to what we know he's capable of doing," Washington said.

What, exactly, is Hosmer is capable of doing? Well, it'd be foolish to put credence in his even-year/odd-year splits. But the difference is stark, and paints a picture of an extremely valuable player. In 2011, '13, '15 and '17 combined, Hosmer owns a .303/.360/.467 slash line with 12.6 Wins Above Replacement.

That's the hitter Hosmer believes he can be, and that's the hitter he spent the offseason trying to channel.

"The offseason's the time to really bear down, try some new things out," Hosmer said. "I just want to get back to my normal strengths, doing what I can do in the box, trying to drive the ball the other way."

No question, Hosmer's on-field impact wasn't what he hoped it could be in his first year for the Padres. But his teammates universally praise his off-field impact. Hosmer routinely took the lead during hitters meetings and film breakdown.

"He was in there, and he was working," said outfielder Travis Jankowski. "He was probably taking more swings than anyone. And he helped the young guys so much with scouting reports, teaching how to break down swings, break down film study. He honestly doesn't have to do any of that, but he just wants to win."

Said catcher Austin Hedges: "The leader and the person he is -- it's real. It's a lot that, probably, no one will ever see. We all see it."

Of course, Hosmer's record contract will not be a "record contract" much longer. News broke of San Diego's reported pact with Machado on Tuesday after an offseason in which the Padres were regularly considered among the top suitors for Machado and Bryce Harper.

"They're generational talents," Hosmer said. "They're guys that have done so well at such a young age, and have so much more left in the tank. I think it shows where this organization's at in the process right now. We're trying to win baseball games, and those are the two guys on the market that can probably help you do that better than anybody else out there.

"It's exciting, it's motivating, just the talk of having those guys out here, you can feel the energy in camp."