Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Matt Hobgood Left His Fastball in High School...Or Did He?

This from ESPN, Kevin Goldstein runs down a list of 10 prospects who need to have big years in 2011. Oriole pitching prospect Matt Hobgood is included:

Matt Hobgood, RHP
Baltimore Orioles

Hobgood looked like a budget-minded selection when Baltimore nabbed him with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, and while the Orioles said he was at the top of their board at the time, he's looked like a mistake so far by any measurement. His beefy (or chubby, depending on the observer) frame was a concern for many, and he's simply never matched the stuff he showed in high school, as what was once a low-90s fastball now never escapes the 80s, while his regressing command and control has created further issues. He's gone so far backwards that he's already facing a pivotal year in his development.

First, I have a hard time believing that a 20-year old kid needs to have a big season or fall by the wayside. He has one professional season under his belt and evidently, it wasn't a fully healthy one.

Second, Goldstein (and others) imply that the stuff that Hobgood showed in high school has never shown itself in the minors, that his fastball can't break 90 in the pros. I don't dispute that point as it applies to how he was pitching for most of the season. But I saw that live fastball in 2010.

Here were my observations on Hobgood when I watched his first start for Delmarva against Greenville in 2010:

You can see why the Orioles like Hobgood so much. Though only 19, he was sitting at 92-93 mph all night and hitting 95 with his fastball on occasion. He has a wicked 79 mph curve that was buckling the knees of the opposition and his stuff was dominant when he was putting it over the plate. Only two batters made solid contact and he only gave up 3 hits while striking out 4.

Unfortunately, he wasn't putting it over the plate consistently. At one point in the 3rd, he walked three straight batters. Early in his career, this will be his Achilles heel. He has the stuff to dominate low-A, he just needs to throw strikes more consistently.

There's more if you follow the link but the point is...there it was. A fastball that was sitting in the low 90's and hitting 95. Breaking stuff that befuddled the opposing hitters. There is a danger in believing the stadium gun but I don't think it was off by that much. Hobgood didn't leave his velocity in high school, he had it, if ever so briefly, at the beginning of 2010.

Thirdly, Goldstein points to "regressing command and control". For the season, Hobgood had a 3.6 BB/9 and a 5.6 K/9 rate. But his last 10 games he posted a 3.1 BB/9 rate against a 5.2 K/9, this with declining velocity.  It's not great control but it hardly looks like he was regressing as the season went along.

Other positives include his GB/FB ratio of 2.07 (2.39 over his last 10 games) and his 0.6 HR/9 rate.

There's a lot to be concerned about as far as Hobgood's development goes. The control is not good at this point and the shoulder injury isn't exactly encouraging. But there's no need to overstate other deficiencies or overlook the things he has done well. The guy the Orioles drafted did show up in the pros...whether he makes it back to that ability is another story.

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