The Rise of Jeremy Hazelbaker

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 11: Jeremy Hazelbaker #41 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates after hitting a triple during the first inning of the home opener at Busch Stadium against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 11, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

751.

751 minor league games before six at the Major League level.

751 minor league games before the opportunity to hit .400 with two home runs in 18 at bats.

751 minor league games before the crack at an MLB roster.

Jeremy Hazelbaker was an uneventful, uninteresting fourth round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2009. The now 28-year-old outfielder was generally uninspiring in the first few years of his professional baseball career, never hitting higher than .279.

Until 2015, when everything seemed to click with the St. Louis Cardinals. After being released by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, Hazelbaker found a home with the Double A team of the Cardinals in Springfield. In 40 games, Hazelbaker exploded to hit .308 after being stuck in a .245 slump with the Dodgers Double A roster.

Quickly, Hazelbaker emerged as a viable hitter in the Cardinals organization. He was elevated to the Triple A level in Memphis where his hitting prowess only improved. The lefty hitter posted a .333 average and .594 slugging percentage in 55 games with ten home runs, his most since 19 in 114 games with the Portland Sea Dogs in 2012.

A strong spring training gave Hazelbaker the chance to make a Cardinals roster lacking outfield depth after the departure of Jason Heyward. Since cracking the big league roster, Hazelbaker has had a torrid start, showing off his newly-found bat, swiping two bases with his above average speed, and playing well in the field.

The 28-year-old looked to be lost in a career in the minor leagues after an unsuccessful run in the Red Sox farm system. Drafted out of Ball State, Hazelbaker his .429 in 203 at bats in his last collegiate season, and he soared up the draft boards.

However, the speedy outfielder never came close to finding that success again. In 45 games in Single A Greenville, his first pro season, Hazelbaker hit just .167.

The Indiana native was a longshot to even make the St. Louis roster, and got the call with shortstop Ruben Tejada injured to start the season. Tommy Pham then got injured, giving Hazelbaker the opportunity to see time in the outfield. Matt Holliday has seen time at first base, and if Hazelbaker keeps hitting, he may stay there to get the former Red Sox outfielder more playing time.

Hazelbaker did not find success with Boston, the team that drafted him. It took time, 751 games of time, in fact, to finally emerge as an option for a major league team. It wasn’t with the team he began with, but it is with the team that gave him his chance after it looked like his career may be over.

2,700 at bats later, the former Ball State Cardinal came full circle with his new home, the Cardinals of St. Louis.

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