Journal Register News Service
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Anthony Hewitt, the Phillies top pick in last June's first-year player draft, had a new piece of equipment in his locker Monday morning -- a broken-in, brown glove.
But it wasn't just any, ordinary brown infielder's glove. It was a gift, from none other than the best infielder in team history, Michael Jack Schmidt.
"He said I didn't have to give it back if I don't want to," Hewitt said. "I'm going to use it. I'm going to have that one for a while."
The new, Hall of Fame leather should come in handy for the youngest player in camp this spring. Hewitt, 19, is continuing to learn a new position in the infield diamond.
After he was drafted with the 24th overall pick by the Phillies, Hewitt began to make the transition from shortstop to third base -- just like Schmidt did when he was a minor leaguer.
"I saw him catching ground balls, making throws," said Schmidt, a guest instructor in camp. "A few drills are different; your responsibilities (change). But if you can handle shortstop, you can handle third with no problem."
Hewitt, an athletic, five-tool native of Brooklyn, N.Y., botched a few hard ground balls during batting practice Sunday. But Schmidt was over his shoulder, which is probably akin to having Michael Jordan watch you work on your jump shot.
If Hewitt was spooked Sunday, he wasn't phased a day later with the new glove on his left hand, snatching tough hops, picking balls to his right and showing off his shortstop-trained soft hands.
The transition is a process that will take time for Hewitt. He committed seven errors in 33 games in Gulf Coast League play last summer.
Tutelage from arguably the baseball's best third baseman of all time can't hurt.
"He pretty much (told me) to relax a little more," Hewitt said of the advice he got from the 10-time Gold Glove winner. "Go into the ball with more swagger, keep my hands longer, don't try to be so stiff."
When he puts down the leather and picks up the lumber, Hewitt is reminding the team of the tools that parlayed into hitting .536 with eight home runs in 56 games as a high school senior at Salisbury School in Connecticut last year. The 6-1, 195-pound Hewitt packs power into his daily batting practice work.
"He's got tremendous bat speed (and) offensively that's the one thing you can't teach," Schmidt said. "Wrist action (and) hand action through the ball. You can hear it, when he hits in (the cage), it sounds a little different."
"The bat explodes," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's got a little pizzazz. The ball jumps through his bat if you watch it. You hear it... I think he's got a chance to be a good hitter."
Those tools didn't produce gaudy stats last summer in the Gulf Coast League, where Hewitt hit .197 with one home run and 55 strikeouts in 117 at-bats. The explanation for his numbers, however, is simple -- he was a 19-year-old kid trying too hard to show why he was a first round pick and he was making a giant leap from playing at a Northeast high school to hitting for the first time against year-round, professionally-experienced pitching.
"Coming from a New England prep league, the speed of the game definitely changed, so I had to catch up and it took a little bit of time to catch up," Hewitt said. "But now I'm learning a lot of things I didn't know before and it's becoming a lot easier."
The Phillies will take their time developing Hewitt. The organization will use the spring to determine where he'll start the season.
Among the possible options are Class-A Lakewood or extended
spring training in Clearwater. Before that decision is made, Hewitt will have the opportunity to hit in Bright House Field with the major league team this spring.
Not unlike other recent top picks Joe Savery and Kyle Drabek, Hewitt is using his invitation to major league camp as a chance to soak up as much information as possible before he's sent to the other side of the Carpenter Complex.
"I say to myself, 'I watched these guys play last year,'" Hewitt said when reminded working out with the World Champs was a giant leap from where he was a year ago, sitting in a high school class waiting for the bell to ring and practice to begin. "I went to a Yankees game -- Yankees and Seattle -- and saw (Raul) Ibanez with Seattle."
Hewitt now eats breakfast sitting next to Jamie Moyer. He changes in a locker that resides in the same clubhouse corner with Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino.
"I had those guys on the background of my computer," Hewitt said with a smile.
When the games begin, Hewitt will try to take all he's learned in the last two weeks and attempt to make the leap from starry-eyed teenager to top-shelf prospect. In order to put that plan into place, he's following the collective message he's received from Rollins, Howard, Schmidt and Co.
"To go out and be yourself, play the game, let everything come to you," Hewitt said. "Let all of your natural abilities come to you."