By Joe Wedra
When the Chicago Cubs drafted pitcher Thomas Hatch with their third-round selection in the 2016 MLB Draft, the plan was to take it slow with the former Oklahoma State standout.
Now, just a handful of starts into his young pro ball career, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans starting pitcher is proving that he’s talented, healthy and ready to climb the ladder in the Chicago organization.
Hatch, a 22-year-old right-hander, was named the 2016 Big-12 Conference Pitcher of the Year in his redshirt sophomore season that followed a lengthy recovery for a UCL strain. He missed all of the 2015 season, making 2016 his major showcase for big-league teams.
And now in his first full season in the Cubs system, Hatch has helped everyone forget about the injury that now looks like a short hurdle on the road to his massive success on the mound.
For the Pelicans through 14 starts, he’s allowed just 62 hits and has struck out 73 batters, posting a 3.33 ERA that has dipped tremendously over his last four starts — 27 innings, one earned run.
The initial leap to professional baseball saw Hatch get hit around and make the expected rookie mistakes. However just 70 innings into his time with the Pelicans, it’s clear that the Cubs 2016 top Draft selection is coming into his own and quickly living up to expectations.
“I think most of it is confidence and fastball command,” Hatch said of his recent success. “I had lost [the command] a little bit earlier in the year, and a lot of that had something to do with just getting used to everything, the lifestyle change. But, I think I’ve gotten used to it and after getting to know everybody, the situation has allowed me to hang back and focus on baseball.”
The Cubs utilized the months following their signing of Hatch to ease him into the system rather than tossing him into more action, even sending him to be around single-A South Bend at the end of the season to boost his confidence and work alongside other players in the organization.
After tossing 130 innings at Oklahoma State, Hatch said the down time was a welcomed hit of the reset button.
Now in June of his first year in the minor-leagues Hatch is seemingly in stride in high-A ball, something that should be underscored. Most players don’t start their work in pro ball at the advanced single-A level — it speaks volumes that the Cubs placed him in Myrtle Beach at the start of this year. And to say the least, he isn’t disappointing.
“You have a good feel for your body at this point,” he said. “There’s such a thing as a mid-season form and I feel like a lot of us have hit that stride. There were adjustments coming off of the five, six month rest in the offseason that you have to get back into feeling your body and arm out. I think once you hit that 30, 40-inning mark, you start to hit that groove and feel that consistency.”
Hatch hasn’t just flashed upside either — he’s effectively showcased a projectable pitching style and ability to make hitters swing and miss.
The 10th-ranked prospect in the Chicago organization (per MLB.com) says maintaining a balanced mindset when it comes to strikeouts has been one of his major keys to success. He feels strikeouts are always valuable, but they tend to come more rapidly with a focus on not taking any pitches off during every start.
“It’s a byproduct of executing pitches,” he said of his plus strikeout totals. “Obviously you read swings and see what you want to do that way, but going deep into games is just as important… Ultimately the goal is to put up zeroes and if you can strike people out, keeping the ball out of play is going to lead to success as well, but keeping that pitch count down is big too.”
If you ask Hatch what his most important pitch is, he’ll likely tell you — as most pitchers would — that it’s the fastball.
But while his well-established fastball is impressive, it’s the slider that likely draws the most amazed reactions during Hatch’s outings. With consistency, it has the potential to be the foundation of his progression.
“Up until my junior year in college I never really had a breaking ball, it was inconsistent,” Hatch noted. “But, we really pushed it and it got to be really good in my junior year but even at that point it probably wasn’t as good as it is here from a consistency perspective.
“That was one thing that I’ve been told from our coordinators is consistency, and I feel like I’ve kind of mastered that. Obviously [the slider] can always get better, but at this stage I’m happy with where it’s at. I’ve been able to throw it for strikes and bury it when I’ve wanted to.”
Looking at the immediate future, there’s plenty of room for optimism when analyzing Hatch. He’s mowing down the competition on a regular basis and appears as healthy as ever. In a larger sense, he’s right on track.
For Hatch, he’s combined the big picture and small one together to form a rock-solid mindset. He knows what could be on the horizon if he continues to keep this current pace — it’s all about cashing in on opportunities and staying steady with each part of his game.
“I’d love to make that jump to the big-leagues as soon as possible, but it’s a step by step thing,” Hatch said. “I could tell this year, coming from college to this level, I thought I could hit the ground running but obviously there is a learning curve. I just like to take it a day at a time and I’ll continue to do that.”
Stats as of Wednesday,