When the topic is Matt Hobgood the Orioles' first-round pick in 2009, the discussion among fans often turns to whether or not he was taken as signability pick by the club.
Fans also talk about his conditioning, or lack thereof. I recently interviewed O's minor league pitcher coordinator Dave Schmidt, who detailed improvements Hobgood is looking to make.
All of that is well and good, but here is perhaps the biggest issue with Hobgood moving forward: Will he get his fastball back?
At Norco High in California, where Hobgood was the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior, he was hitting the mid 90s with his heater. Depending upon the person you talk to, he was either a little or a lot off that velocity when he pitched last season for Single-A Delmarva.
"You see that (a drop in velocity) with a lot of kids. Remember, a high school kid, even a college kid, is pitching once a week at most and the length of season is two, two and half months," Schmidt said. "I tell young guys, you are now transitioning to being a pro pitcher who throws once every five days, not seven, with a bullpen in between. Put that together with a five-month season and no break in pro ball and you often see a drop in velocity in that first (full) year. They are getting used to more throwing and the stress on their arm. If they were throwing just once a week, they'd show more velocity."
Is Schmidt concerned that Hobgood's velocity will not return?
"I think it will come back as he gets to where he wants to be physically and as he logs innings and gets used to the workload. Both things will contribute to his fastball velocity coming back," Schmidt said.
Hobgood, the fifth pick in the 2009 draft, went 1-2, 4.73 in eight Rookie League Bluefield starts that year. Last summer, he was 3-7, 4.40 in 94 innings with Delmarva.
Some fans feel that Hobgood has yet to show first-round potential. Has Schmidt seen that yet from the 20-year-old right-hander?
"I see some potential. Obviously, we have not seen the raw physical, that part of it. I have seen some intangibles of work ethic and some things during the year that he is pretty determined. I see a certain maturity for a young kid,Schmidt said. "I am certainly hopeful. I think he does have potential and he's a competitor. When a competitor gets knocked down, they go about getting back to work. That's what we expect and will see.
"We can't sugarcoat it. We haven't seen the fastball velocity or the break on the curveball - no, we haven't seen that. But I have seen other things that lead me to believe that he is going to get that back. That, together with some things I have seen mentally and competitor-wise. I think when he puts that whole package together, we'll see the real guy that we drafted. I'm still in a positive frame of mind about Matt and I'm rooting hard for him."
Schmidt said Hobgood, like most minor league hurlers, will begin a two-month throwing program in early January that leads right into spring camp.
The 2011 season could see Hobgood start with Single-A Frederick of the Carolina League.
"We just need to see where he is when he comes into camp. He'll tell us with his performance, as with just about any player, where he needs to be at the start of the season. Seeing where (he) is, the decision will be made that is best for the player," Schmidt said.