I first saw Thomas Hatch pitch for Oklahoma State in the College World Series (CWS) in 2016. He pitched a complete game against the University of California-Santa Barbara and I really liked what I saw that game. He struck out seven but got a lot of ground ball outs using a three pitch repertoire of a two-seam fastball, slider, and change. My initial thought was that the Cubs got a steal in the third round of the 2016 MLB draft.
Hatch signed after the CWS but did not pitch as a Cub until fall instructs. He had missed all of 2015 with a UCL sprain and threw 131 IP for Oklahoma State in 2016. This spring, the Cubs assigned him to High-A Myrtle Beach. In his first start of the year for Myrtle Beach, he went 5 innings of 1 hit ball. After that appearance, the next 7 starts would be very rough, and on May 11, his ERA stood at 6.11.
If you just looked at the stat sheet and the box score, you would have thought Hatch was a bust. However, if you watched Hatch live or on the Internet, you could see definite differences from college pitcher Thomas Hatch versus pro pitcher Thomas Hatch. Here’s a closer look:
Nice four pitch mix
Goes deep into starts
Areas of Concern
Jumped all the way to High A from college
What is Different This Year?
There are actually several things that changed.
1. Delivery – According to Scott Kornberg, pitching coach Anderson Tavarez tweaked Hatch’s delivery to create a more repeatable and fluid form. When watching Hatch this year, his ¾ arm slot looks pretty close to the same on every pitch.
2. Stretch Position – This is the most notable difference between last year and this. In college, Hatch was bent over in what I call a “Virginia crouch.” His knees were bent, his back hunched. All in all, it looked extremely uncomfortable. This year, he is much more upright. It took some getting acclimated to that position.
3. A Four Seam Fastball – Wait. What? He didn’t throw a four seamer before? Nope. Pelicans’ announcer Scott Kornberg detailed that Hatch learned the pitch on the fly. You would not think it would be hard to learn, but when everything you throw is down at the bottom of the zone, a pitch up in the zone can take a while to master the command and control.
How Are These Things Working?
Since May 22, Hatch has only allowed two earned runs. He’s thrown 30.1 IP with an ERA of 0.59. Over that span, he’s struck out 33 including 13 in one game. In June, he has not allowed a run, and in his last start he went 8 innings.
The most interesting stat to change during his development is his walk rate, now at 4.12/9 innings. Even during his struggles, he was not being hit hard (he has yet to allow a HR), but he had trouble commanding his pitches. You could see catcher PJ Higgins set a target and Hatch would miss it by a foot. At the peak of his troubles, his WHIP was 1.73. It has since dropped to 1.39. His ERA has been almost cut in half to 3.69 for the year, and his FIP is a very respectable 2.85. When hitters do hit his pitches, 51.5 percent go into the ground against a 29.9 percent fly ball rate. That’s a nice ratio.
Interestingly enough, Hatch’s K rate is pretty good at 24 percent. For a pitcher who did not strike out a lot of batters in college, he is getting the job done as a pro.
Hatch should be in Myrtle Beach for a while, at least most of this summer. One month of domination does not guarantee a promotion. I think he might get a taste of Double-A this year, but that would require another month of domination. I think the key to his ascension the past month has been his command. By spotting both fastballs, he is able to change the eye levels of the hitters and keep them guessing between those two pitches, his slider, and his change (which I think is his best pitch).
To look at the stat sheet, you might not think this has been a good year, but it has. It is nice to see a player go through adversity, make adjustments, and come out the other side.
Lead photo courtesy of Larry Kave—Myrtle Beach Pelicans