By Todd Johnson
For the better part of this minor league season, Thomas Hatch did not impress anyone very much. He had trouble locating and giving up runs. At one point, his ERA jumped above 6. I sat and watched him about two weeks ago and he was missing the catcher’s mitt by a foot. The key thing that I liked from that outing, though, was the natural movement of his pitches.
I noticed he looked a little different than when I first saw him pitch last year in the College World Series for Oklahoma State. In the stretch, he is now much more upright. He used to be in what I called “A Virginia Crouch.” A more upright approach would leave less leeway for things to go wrong in his delivery. That might take some getting used to.
In his past two starts, he has been very good including striking out 13 in 5.1 IP vs. Carolina. His 13 K performance could be a harbinger of things to come. I would not expect him to strike out 13 batters every night, but I do expect him to pitch well. I think he is just beginning to get there.
Great Feel for Pitching
Has 4 pitches
Areas of Concern
Heading into 2017
After being drafted in 2016, Hatch finished up pitching 131 IP for Oklahoma State after missing most of 2015 with an injury that did not require surgery. As a result, Cubs brass thought Hatch had pitched enough. He was shut down for three months. Later, he pitched in Fall Instructs in October and drew pretty good reviews.
Normally, when the Cubs select a pitcher in the draft, they take it easy on them that first year. Usually, they throw a few innings in Mesa and then end up doing short starts of 2 to 3 innings the rest of the summer at either Eugene or South Bend.
For Hatch, he went through none of the rites of passage in becoming a pro pitcher. The transition has not gone as smoothly as would have hoped. Having skipped three levels in rookie ball, short season ball, and low class A, he has some catching up to do.
For most of the last off-season, I hemmed and hawed about where Hatch should be placed to begin 2017. I originally thought that Myrtle Beach would provide the best challenge. At the Cubs convention, Jason McLeod thought that Hatch would/should be at South Bend. I acquiesced to his expertise. Things changed.
An injury to Oscar de la Cruz and Hatch’s own performance in spring training resulted in Hatch being placed with the Pelicans to begin the year. That is quite a steep learning curve to go on. Transitioning from pitching in NCAA Division I to advanced A ball requires patience, adaptation, and skills.
For five innings on Sunday night, Hatch looked the best I have seen him, even better than last year’s College World Series. He used his fastball and sinker deftly to strike out 12 in those first five innings. I was surprised he came back out for the sixth as he was already at 83 pitches. He ran into some trouble, struck out his 13th hitter and gave up a double for the go ahead run.
What I am taking away from his latest outing is that he is adapting, albeit slower than some may want. But you can see it. You can see how he is now attacking certain hitters and how he is using his fastball instead of his secondaries to get strikeouts.
His transformation is still not complete from college pitcher to pro pitcher. When I look at the development of a prospect, I tend to look at splits. Splits are good for looking at how a prospect is doing over a 10 game period or a month-long period. I think Hatch is in a 10 game window right now. Over June and July I expect to see improvement from April and May. That’s only reasonable. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to see his ERA for one of the next two months be in the threes. This is not gonna happen overnight and that’s OK. He will get there in due time.
*All cards made from pics by Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans