Included among the 19 non-roster players the Cubs invited to major league spring training was a 23-year-old pitcher with only one full season of pro ball under his belt. A season that was only played at the high-A level. But Thomas Hatch flashed the kind of potential during his time at Myrtle Beach that have some hoping he can help set a new trend for the organization’s pitching development.
Taken in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Hatch did not pitch that first season because he had thrown over 130+ inning at Oklahoma State after missing all of 2015 with an elbow injury. His first professional campaign was as inconsistent as one could expect. He struggled to go deep into games, some of which was likely precautionary, and only pitched more than six innings three times.
There was also the matter of working in a four-seamer to his repertoire and trying to feel everything out while only throwing 80-ish pitches each time out. But he once struck out 13 in 5.1 innings and had an excellent K-rate by striking out 128 in 124 innings. Though they were somewhat scattered through his debut season, those positives earned the righty Pitcher of the Month honors for the Cubs in June.
Double-A will be the ultimate test of Hatch’s skills in 2018, but not before he gets to face the big boys for a few weeks in Mesa
6-1, 190 Pounds
23 years old
3rd Rd Pick (2015, Oklahoma State)
What to Expect in 2018
The key for Hatch is throwing strikes. I know that seems obvious, but his percentage of pitches thrown for strikes was at 63 percent and really needs to be closer to 70 percent. He also walked 3.61 batters per 9 innings which is a bit high. It will to be crucial for him to pound the zone at Tenness, since AA hitters won’t chase as much as those at the lower levels.
Being that Hatch is now two levels from Chicago, it is also important to work in some serious innings. Hatch only threw 124 last year, so hopefully he can build to 140-150 in 2018 and 160-170 in 2019 as he continues to ramp up that stamina. That jump in innings has been a huge change for most of the Cubs’ AA starters the past few years and it is an even bigger change from getting the ball once a week in college. Some young pitchers really have to fight through “dead arm” in the second half when making the jump to a new level.
When it comes to the stuff alone, however, Hatch has what it takes to succeed at AA and beyond. He gets great movement on his pitches and should be able to make adjustments to his sequencing this year. And a look at his numbers from last year reveal that he might have been better than what most folks see at first glance. While he had a 4.04 ERA, his 2.95 FIP was outstanding. He also generated a 45.7 percent groundball rate and allowed only two home runs.
The Cubs spent a lot of time scouting Hatch from high school through his days at OSU. The development staff is well aware of exactly who he is and what he can do, now it’s a matter of his making good on that potential. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen said the following about Hatch’s development and what he needs to improve:
Hatch’s changeup is now consistently average, and some scouts think it will be his best secondary pitch at maturity. It complements his above-average fastball, which features varying amounts of sink and typically sits 90-94, touching 95-96 on occasion. Reports on the slider are a half-grade down from last year, but Hatch has good glove-side command of it (the lone pitch he locates consistently), which will help maximize its effectiveness, especially against righties.
After being thrown to wolves a bit last year, basically skipping two levels to open at Myrtle Beach, Hatch is better acclimated to the rigors of minor league baseball. The hope is that he can use spring training with the big league club to highlight the areas he needs to improve on for 2018 and beyond.
Hatch should be a fun watch this year.