At the time, Hatch was a soon-to-be 25-year-old repeating Double-A who ranked 29th on the Chicago Cubs’ MLB Pipeline prospect list. He wasn’t dominating the level either, putting up a 4.59 ERA with a 4.42 FIP to match. From an outsider’s perspective, the righty looked like a lottery ticket at best.
Just three games into his MLB career, it’s already clear he’s more than that.
It’s definitely too early to declare Hatch a big part of this team’s future – or even a future starter – with confidence. There are plenty of things that three appearances can’t tell us. His command, for instance, remains in question. Apart from his finishing stretch with the New Hampshire FisherCats last year, walks have always been a problem, and he already has three in his 6.1 MLB innings. We can’t be confident in things like his durability, or whether he can turn over a lineup if he ends up starting. There’s far more we don’t know than we do know when it comes to the young right-hander’s capabilities.
However, even in the very small glimpse of Hatch we’ve seen, we can be confident of one thing: this guy has electric stuff.
That assertion rests primarily on the quality of his fastball, which has the potential to be truly special. So far, he’s averaged a sturdy 94.9 mph on the pitch. It seems like he may be able to dial that higher in shorter stints, too. On Wednesday – his first appearance of less than two innings – he managed an average of 95.8 mph, which is elite territory.
What makes this pitch stand out isn’t just the heat on it, it’s the spin rate. So far, Hatch’s four-seamer has registered a spin rate of 2601 rpm. That number is right up there with the pitchers we most commonly associate with deadly high-spin fastballs like Justin Verlander (2571 last season), Gerrit Cole (2499) and Yu Darvish (2542). So far this season, Hatch’s fastball spin rate ranks fifth in the majors among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 50 four-seamers, sitting between Mike Minor and Garrett Richards.
Armed with this high-velocity, high-spin fastball, Hatch should be able to attack the top of the strike zone, something he actually hasn’t done a great job of so far.
When Hatch has managed to cling to the top of the zone, we’ve seen glimpses of what his fastball can do. For example, in his MLB debut against the Tampa Bay Rays, he forced some silly looking swings on elevated fastballs from Mike Zunino and Hunter Renfroe.
If Hatch can elevate the ball more consistently, he has the ability to induce these kinds of swings on a regular basis. His high fastballs from the right-hander aren’t infallible – Adam Duvall took Hatch deep on a fastball that was just below the top of the zone on Wednesday – but they look genuinely dangerous.
Hatch has also shown some promising secondary offerings in the early going.
In particular, his slider looks like it could be a bat-misser. Coming in at a hard 86.9 mph, the pitch has pedestrian vertical movement (6 percent below-average), but heavy horizontal movement (30 percent above-average). We’re not talking about a Chaz Roe frisbee here, but this is going to be a pitch that runs away from right-handed hitters.
Willy Adames found that out the hard way.
The combination of a hard, high-spin, fastball and a sharp slider with excellent run is enough to profile as a top-notch reliever. Because of his history as a starter, Hatch has more to offer in the form of a changeup that has been a development priority of his since he joined the Blue Jays.
At this point, it’s tough to say what that pitch offers because it’s movement numbers don’t impress (it’s dead average in terms of vertical drop and lacks arm-side run) and we haven’t seen enough of it to make much of the results. For what it’s worth, the velocity gap between the change and the fastball is promising (9.4 mph), and no one’s touched it yet. To be fair, no one has touched much of anything yet as Hatch has allowed just two hits thus far.
Making sweeping proclamations about what the rookie can be is unfair given how little of him we’ve seen. There are still plenty of questions that can only be answered by an extended run at the MLB level. Even so, in just three games Hatch has made it abundantly clear that he’s a pitcher to watch, and a guy with a chance to make a difference out of the bullpen right now.