Every season presents an opportunity for prospects to get better. While many fans follow some of the highest ranked players in the system, there are always a few talented guys that are flying under-the-radar. That was just the case for outfielder Derrick Loveless until a breakout 2014 season gave the speedy outfielder the recognition he deserves.
Loveless made a big transition last April when he joined the Lansing Lugnuts for his first full season of professional baseball, after spending 2013 in Bluefield batting .226 with six doubles, six triples, two home runs, and 12 RBIs. This jump was a bit surprising, but didn’t faze the Iowa native who showed good improvement in the Midwest League.
His Lugnuts’ season began in the Crosstown Showdown on April 3rd against Michigan State University. The Lugnuts won the game 3-2 and even though it was just an exhibition game, the opportunity to play on national television was exciting for Loveless whose family was able to catch the action on the Big Ten Network.
“The Crosstown Showdown was fun. I don’t think I’ve ever played a baseball game on TV, so it was a little nerve-wracking, but exciting as well,” Loveless said, smiling. “I got a hit in the game which was great with my family watching. It was a really cool experience.”
Taking the motivation from the Crosstown Showdown into his first half of play, Loveless was named a Midwest League all-star reserve player, after batting .256 with nine doubles, three triples, a home run, and 24 RBIs in his first two months of full season play.
Loveless would go 0-for-1 in the all-star game. But just being there was a tremendous honor for the 22-year old outfielder who made lifelong friendships with his teammates. In fact, Loveless takes great pride in saying hello to all of the players he had an opportunity to meet in the game.
“The Midwest League All-Star Game was really cool. It was fun playing the game with those guys,” Loveless recalls. “All of those players are pretty good and it was cool meeting them. It’s nice saying hi to them when we play against them as they were all great guys.”
The all-star experience gave Loveless a lot of confidence in the second half of the season. Batting .271 with nine doubles, six triples, five home runs, and 31 RBIs in his second half of play; Loveless would finish the year with a .264 batting average and a team leading .363 OBP and nine triples.
With above-average speed Loveless wanted to improve on bunting and stealing bases in Lansing. Picking up several base hits on well-bunted balls became a real asset for the club, who had trouble reaching base at times in 2014. The prospect also improved his ability to understand when it was safe to take off on the base paths. Registering 17 steals on 24 attempts was good enough for second best on the team. Improving in both areas are great signs for Loveless moving forward.
“My speed helps my defense a lot, but I’m also incorporating bunting into my game,” explained Loveless. “I feel I need to get bunting down, it’s an important aspect of the game and is definitely a skill that will help me moving forward.”
“I think my base running got better over the season, he added. “At the beginning of the year I wasn’t very confident in stealing bases, but I feel I took a step forward this season and my confidence level went up. I’m doing a better job reading balls off the bat and finding ways to get into scoring position.”
Impressed with the progress he saw from Loveless between playing in Bluefield back in 2013 to seeing him perform in Lansing, last season. Lansing Lugnuts hitting coach Ken Huckaby was excited to see Loveless turn a corner with his career.
“Derrick Loveless had a great year. In 2013 he tailed off at the end, but in 2014 he stayed steady all year,” stated Huckaby. “Derrick put together a good, solid season. He was named an all-star and that was a well-deserved honor. Derrick is really turning a corner. It’s great to see.”
The appreciation goes both ways as Loveless enjoys working with Huckaby. The area that stands out the most to the young outfielder is the way Huckaby makes sure all the players are comfortable with their approaches at the plate.
“I love Ken Huckaby as a hitting coach. I have built a pretty good relationship with him,” stated Loveless. “Ken knows the right things to say and keep players comfortable, especially in a tense game like this it can be easy to get overworked. But he makes sure you’re comfortable with everything happening in the game.”
Another coach in the Blue Jays system that has made a big impact on Loveless is roving outfield/base running instructor Tim Raines. Obviously playing in the outfield and wanting to get better at stealing bases, Loveless is all ears when Raines joins the team for a series or two.
“I love when Tim Raines comes in because we’re pretty close,” said Loveless. “He always gives me new things to think about and reminds us of the old things he taught us and make sure we’re working on it every day.”
Currently in Dunedin working towards a promotion to high-A baseball, Loveless feels he’ll be prepared to do just that after completing a busy off-season routine that’s designed to make him bigger, faster, and stronger.
“In the off-season I start working out four days a week right after the season ends. I don’t begin my hitting and throwing until late in the off-season,” explains Loveless. “I mostly just lift weights and workout for the majority of my off-season.”
Watch for Derrick Loveless as he continues to fine-tune his game in the Blue Jays minor league system in 2015.