There are many reasons to believe Jason Ogata has a bright future in professional baseball.
The most important one could be the .191 batting average he put up early this season with the Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads.
That miserable number earned him a second stint with the Spokane Indians.
“I had mixed feelings,” Ogata said. “I was back in the Northwest. I grew up in Portland so I have a lot of support, but obviously moving down you’re not really happy about that.”
No doubt the Texas Rangers took note of his professional response – he’s batting .403 in 36 games for the Indians (29-32) heading into the first game of a six-game series with Boise (29-32) tonight at Avista Stadium.
“It was just baseball,” Ogata said. “One little thing and I had a bad week. It just snowballed on me and I couldn’t really fix it. It was just one of those things. It was really tough, but I kept on fighting, working hard every day. I knew it would come back.”
Spokane manager Tim Hulett concurred.
“He had a great spring training, he was red shot,” Hulett said. “Hitting is that way, you’re up and down. He goes to Hickory and he started on the downside. It affected his defense a little bit, he struggled all the way around.
“He came back here, he’s experienced this level before, and he feels like he belongs. He’s a smart hitter, too.”
Ogata was hitting .409 when the Indians embarked on a six-game road trip, although he didn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the league lead.
“I’m putting good swings on the ball, seeing the ball pretty well,” he said. “I’m feeling real comfortable at the plate right now.”
Ogata made enough of an impression in high school to be drafted by San Diego (50th round) but he opted to check out Louisiana State. He admits he was impressed by a program that won five national titles between 1991 and 2000 – and another this year.
“I wanted to get away,” he said. “I visited and got caught up in the big-time program. I wanted to play for that big-time program. I wanted to go to the College World Series.”
Ogata played in 24 games for the Tigers, hitting .255, but a coaching change after a 35-24 season left his future in doubt, so he called “home” and landed at another CWS champion, Oregon State.
Ogata hit .294 in 57 games as the Beavers defended their national title in 2007. He hit .301 as a junior before the Rangers selected him in the 38th round in 2008.
“I was fortunate Texas wanted me,” said Ogata, who is a couple of semesters short of a degree in finance. “It was a hard decision at first. My parents and I thought it was the right decision to start my career.”
Success followed Ogata to Spokane. He hit .244 as the every-day second baseman for the league champions.
“I loved it, playing here in the Northwest,” he said. “I loved my teammates and winning; you enjoy sports more when you’re winning. We had a good thing going last year, kind of like we have now. It was a great first year.”
One difference from a year ago is Ogata, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-hander, finds himself in more of a utility role, something that began in college, even though he has been playing almost every day since arriving almost three weeks into the season.
“Obviously playing different positions opens up a lot more opportunities for me but second is where I want to be, where I’m most comfortable because I played it,” he said. “If they need me to be a utility guy, I’ll take that. I feel like I’m a good enough athlete to do that.”
After last year’s championship, this year’s club got off to a slow start, though the second half of the season has been better.
“It’s execution,” Ogata said. “The bounces can go either way. There are so many little things that go into winning a ballgame. The past couple of weeks we’ve been getting the bounces, we’ve been getting the calls and we’re using the momentum. That’s the game of baseball, consistency.”
That point was driven home to Ogata this season.
“I learned a lot going to Hickory and struggling,” he said. “You can’t take things for granted. You have to take it one at-bat at a time, one game at a time. I really think me struggling has made me a better player, a better person, dealing with things. My confidence is really high right now.”
Hulett said: “Most of it is mental. He looks exactly like he did last year. He’s doing all the same things, he just seems to have it locked in. A guy that hits like that … the sky’s the limit. Of course every level you’ve got to make adjustments. He’s got to maintain that same ability to hit. Sometimes guys do, sometimes guys don’t. He’s very much a student of the game all the way around.”