He didn’t have the fastball velocity he had while dominating in high school. For sure he didn’t have the eye-opening stats either.
But for O’s first-round draft pick, RHP Matt Hobgood, his first season of pro ball was productive. He made the transition from high school ball and found out what it takes to be a pro.
It all happened fast for Hobgood. On May 31st, he pitched in a playoff game for Norco (California) High. A week later he threw a bullpen session for the O’s brass at Camden Yards. A few days after that he was the 5th pick in round one of the draft.
Then it was off to Bluefield of the Appalachian League. In eight starts, covering 26 2/3 innings, he was 1-2, 4.73. He walked just eight and fanned 16.
In his last two starts there, he allowed just two earned runs over 9 2/3 innings.
Hobgood feels the layoff and a lack of throwing much between draft day and that first Bluefield outing cost him several miles per hour on his fastball which never came back fully during his time with Bluefield.
“It was a good learning process. It’s a lot different than high school, hitters don’t chase as much. You also throw and run every day and get maybe one or two days off a month. I had to learn a lot transitioning from high school to pro ball,” Hobgood said.
“I didn’t get back to where I was pitching in high school. In high school I was around 92 to 94 and 90 to 92 with my two seam. In Bluefield I topped at 92. Everyone was looking for 95, 96.
“Even (scouting director) Joe Jordan said someone asked him where my velocity went. He said that’s just part of the transition of getting used to the pro ball throwing program and everything that pro ball entails.
“It was disappointing, but it’s not all about velocity. I know people like to see it when it’s been there before. I know it got some people worried about things.
“I was at 85 to 87 in a game at Princeton and only gave up two hits in five innings and that was one of my best games of the year. It’s not always about velocity, but I’d like to get back to throwing low 90’s consistently.”
The 18-year-old Hobgood remains confident the juice in his fastball is there and that he’ll return to form with regular throwing and innings.
“My velocity was down this year, but maybe it will come back next year when I’m use to throwing a lot and have been in a throwing program. We’ll have to see come next March I guess.”
The O’s had Hobgood get a taste of pro ball but certainly didn’t push him too far. He pitched just eight innings total in his first four starts and never threw more than five innings in a game.
“That was kind of frustrating. I wanted to throw and my arm would feel good. I want to be the guy to go seven, eight, nine innings and not come out after five. But they need to develop players so we have pitch counts. It’s more of a learning process,” Hobgood said by phone from Sarasota, Florida, where he is taking part in O’s instructional league workouts.
Hobgood said the focus so far for pitchers at instructional league seems to be working on off-speed pitches.
“As a club they really want people to come away from this instructional league having more confidence in their changeup than when they came. They want us all to improve with that pitch.”
At 6’4”, 245 pounds, Hobgood pitches with a big and athletic frame. He said pitching at that weight is not an issue for him.
“Right now, people I’ve talked with say it’s not necessarily what the scale says, it’s a matter of how you look and your body fat. They’ve given me a range where they want my body fat and areas to work on.
“My goal is to go into spring training in March in the best shape I’ve ever been in or the best shape I can be.”
To get there he says he’ll take part this winter in some workouts at the Athletes Performance Institute in Carson, California.
Hobgood said his goal for next year is to begin in April with the Delmarva Shorebirds of the South Atlantic League.
“That’s what I’m shooting for. I don’t know what their plan is for me. They might want me to go to Aberdeen first or stay at extended for a few months. I really want to go to Low A ball and I will do everything in my power to do that. That’s get in good shape and pitch like I know how to. I can’t do anything with what I can’t control.”
You can hear his excitement when he talks about the good young pitching currently in the O’s farm system. Some that has already made its way to Baltimore and some, including himself, that has that as the ultimate goal.
“It’s really exciting. I’ve talked to Brian Matusz a couple of times. He called me after the draft. We’ve texted here and there. He flew through the system.
“I want to get there as soon as I can. With arms like Matusz, Tillman and Arrieta and some other great arms, in a couple of years we could be taking the AL East by storm.”