After a spectacular finish to 2012, Jesse Hodges is not just hoping for an even better 2013, he’s counting on it.
Having recently received the most valuable player award for Canada’s national junior team in Toronto, the 18-year-old Victoria native and former Victoria Mariner can’t wait to get going on this upcoming season.
The Chicago Cubs prospect — who signed after the World Under-18 Baseball Championship in Seoul in the summer — will head to Cubs’ training camp in Mesa, Arizona, a couple of weeks early for some one-on-one instruction before MLB teams get together in March.
“My life’s changed a lot,” admitted Hodges, who is working out in preparation before leaving Feb. 21. “There’s not much time until my job starts and I have to make a difference.
“I have to prove to them that I can play in the big leagues one day. It’s hard work, but at the same time you have to enjoy the atmosphere around you.”
The six-foot-one, 215-pound shortstop — who played third base for Canada in Korea — has his eyes on the ultimate prize, but knows it will take small strides in achieving it.
“Little steps at a time. I want to play in the big leagues and I’m going to try my hardest to do that, but it’s going to take time,” he said. “If I play the way I can, and how I’ve shown, then I think I have a good chance of making it.”
His road will be a little steeper than avenues that may be presented to top Cubs draft picks and more recognized prospects such as Brett Jackson, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler. That’s how it goes for free-agent signings.
For now Hodges has his eyes on playing short-season Class A ball in the Northwest League with Chicago’s farm club, the Boise Hawks.
“That’s my goal and, yes, it’s attainable,” he insisted. “I just have to perform better than everyone else and prove that I’m supposed to be there. I’ll have to prove myself day-in and day-out.”
He joined the Cubs’ organization at the Instructional League level — where he was a teammate of, among others, Trevor Gretzky, Wayne’s son — following worlds in Korea where he became an instant hit.
Hodges hit a game-tying, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against Japan and then scored the winning run in the 10th. He also went 2-for-4 in Canada’s 1-0 victory over Team USA. He was also selected to the All-World team at the tournament and was informed in December that he would be recognized as Canada’s junior MVP in Toronto.
“It was a great honour,” he said of the award, which he received on Jan. 12. “There were a lot of great players on that team. And I got to meet some big-leaguers and had some great conversations with them.
“They treated me like I was one of the guys,” he said of rubbing shoulders with the likes of Justin Morneau, Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont, Russell Martin, Jeff Francis, Ryan Dempster and Adam Stern.
Now, he’ll begin the long task to become one of them.