Hochevar values Futures experience

Hochevar values Futures experience

SAN FRANCISCO -- His face breaks into a smile as right-hander Luke Hochevar talks about his life as a professional.

Standing in the Team USA clubhouse on Sunday at AT&T Park, Hochevar, the No. 1 overall pick of the Royals in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, finds himself grinding through his first full season, but he's enjoying the experience -- every minute of it, he says. His spot in the 2007 All-Star Futures Game is just another part of the grind.

"I feel extremely honored and blessed to have this opportunity to be in this," says Hochevar, who tossed a perfect fifth inning Sunday for the U.S. team, needing just 11 pitches. "It's been a good experience."

He talks about how proud he feels to represent the Royals, the team that has banked millions on his potential. Yet nobody expected Hochevar to jump straight into the Royals' rotation without some seasoning in the Minors.

At Double-A Wichita, he's simply been learning the craft of pitching against better hitters. For as dominant as he was for the University of Tennessee, he knows that success in college ball isn't assurance that success in professional ball will come quickly.

He's learned that hard, cold lesson on the mound. He came into the Futures Game with a 3-6 record and a 4.63 ERA, numbers that aren't representative of his standing as a high-end prospect.

"It's been tough," he says. "But I've tried to stay locked in on the day-in, day-out process that I need to do to help myself get better. It's good when I go through tough times, you know.

"That's what makes you tough. I'm thankful for rough times."

Not that anybody is treating the 23-year-old Hochevar like a batting-practice pitcher, for that's not the case. He's just found it more difficult to get outs in Double-A ball than he did in college ball, and his ERA and win/loss record reflect those difficulties.

All-Star Game Coverage

Those numbers themselves don't trouble Hochevar. In his mind, those numbers are just numbers, nothing more. They do tell lies, too.

"My numbers in the Minor Leagues aren't gonna help me win games in the big leagues," he says. "The things I'm working on now are gonna help me win games in the big leagues, and that's what I'm concerned with."

Halfway through the '07 season, Hochevar seems pleased with his development. He says he's been working to improve his mechanics, specifically on trying to repeat his delivery with more consistency. He's also learning that he'll need more than a 95-mph fastball to carry him to the Major Leagues.

"The journey that I've been on to get here has been full of lessons," Hochevar says. "I like to keep my eyes open to why I'm going through things, and why things happen and what I take from that. I mean, since coming into pro ball, I've learned a lot of things."

No doubt he's learned plenty, as any pitching prospect would as he tries to climb the professional ranks, and being picked for the Futures Game shows that Hochevar has impressed people enough to pick him over other prospects.

It's just another indication that Hochevar's moving closer and closer to where he wants to be, which is playing for the Royals.

"I do control that, but I control that by making myself better and working hard," he says. "So that's where I put all my focus and all my energy."

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.