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We continue our look at the 2020 Blue Jays by examining the major league debut of one of the younger Blue Jays pitchers: Thomas Hatch.
Thomas (or Tom Hatch, as he’s referred to on Baseball Reference) was a third-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2016 out of Oklahoma State University and by 2017, he was the Cubs’ #13 prospect. He was known for his sinking fastball at 93-94 mph and had a good slider to go with it, moving up to #8 in 2018.
Hatch moved through the minor leagues quickly, spending the entire 2018 season in Double-A Tennessee, posting a 3.82 ERA and 1.31 WHIP over 143 2/3 innings with 61 walks and 117 strikeouts. In 2019, he struggled a bit in Tennessee, posting a 4.59 ERA and 1.41 WHIP over 100 innings, striking out 93 and walking 37 before he was traded to Toronto at the trade deadline for reliever David Phelps and cash.
Moving to the Blue Jays’ organization, Hatch became a different pitcher after consulting with New Hampshire pitching coach Vince Horsman who thought Hatch’s changeup was his best weapon and coaxed him to throw it more. In 35 1/3 innings with the Fisher Cats, he had a 2.80 ERA, a 0.76 WHIP with 34 strikeouts and just two walks.
In the offseason, Hatch was among the young players who the Blue Jays placed on their 40-man roster and he came into spring training with the (distant) hope of making the team. He got into four games in the spring, throwing 5 1/3 innings and giving up just two runs on one hit with three walks and six strikeouts.
Hatch made the Blue Jays to start 2020, getting himself onto the expanded roster and impressed with his improved velocity, particularly when coming out of the bullpen. His fastball velocity averaged 95 mph, ranking him in the 82nd percentile of pitchers in the majors while ranking in the 96th percentile with fastball spin rate. His exit velocity was in the 83rd percentile and his whiff rate was in the 78th percentile, giving him some excellent stuff. His slider, in particular, had a 43.6% whiff rate, although, when it was hit, it was hit harder than either his fastball or his changeup.
The results were definitely there for Hatch in his MLB debut. He first appeared on July 26 and threw 2 1/3 hitless innings, walking two and striking out three against Tampa Bay. He did have occasional rough patches, giving up runs in bunches, he finished the season having pitched 17 times and logged 26 1/3 innings, starting once. He had a 2.73 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, striking out 23 and walking 13. He pitched twice in the playoffs, throwing a total of two innings without allowing a baserunner and struck out one.
It’s hard to see into the future to know where Hatch might rank in the Blue Jays pitching depth charts. Is he still considered a starter? Will he return to the bullpen? He obviously proved he can handle himself at the major league level but the Blue Jays are going to have several veteran starters, not to mention Nate Pearson in the mix, regardless of what they do this offseason. The Jays have Ryu, Roark and Ray on the 40-man already who will probably make up three-fifths of the starting rotation. Then there’s Pearson. Is Hatch going to be ahead of Anthony Kay? Those would be my two main candidates for a fifth starter spot but there are certainly others who might be back in the conversation like Julian Merryweather (health permitting), Ross Stripling, Trent Thornton, T.J. Zeuch or even Sean Reid-Foley.
It’ll be an interesting offseason and start of 2021 for Hatch but I’m sure he’ll be in the mix if he keeps doing what he did in 2020.
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