SEVIERVILLE — Thomas Hatch got to enjoy two World Series experiences in 2016. As the third-round pick of the Chicago Cubs, he watched the lovable losers win their first baseball championship since 1908.
Hatch couldn’t tag along as he was still busy at Oklahoma State, helping the Cowboys make it to the College World Series. Even though he was still pitching in the NCAA, Cubs fans made their presence known any time he took the mound for the Cowboys.
“It was unique,” Hatch said. “I didn’t think about it until I got there. The weirdest thing was noticing how many Cubs fans there were. The fan base is nationwide, not just in the middle of the country. That’s something I didn’t know. There were so many Cubs fans in Oklahoma that came out to the ballgames.”
Hatch hasn’t disappointed and has rocketed through the minor league ranks, reaching the Class AA level with the Tennessee Smokies in just his second season.
On the fast track from Oklahoma State
At the Tennessee smokies home opener, Moe Resner was able to throw out the first pitch.
As the ace of Oklahoma State’s staff, Hatch had a busy 2016 as the Cowboys advanced to the College World Series.
The Cowboys made it all the way to the semifinals before falling to Arizona. With so many innings under his belt, the Cubs shut Hatch down his first season. He did nothing but work on his health and the mental game as he prepared to make his pro baseball debut.
“They rested me and took care of me, which is the No. 1 priority,” Hatch said. “I would have loved to have gone out there and shown them what I had. All you can ask for is that they’re focused on your health and long-term goals. On the other hand, as a competitor you want to pitch.”
Hatch finally got his chance a year later with High-A Myrtle Beach in 2017, skipping rookie ball and the lower levels altogether. It was a steep learning curve for a talented but inexperienced pitcher. Hatch went 5-11 with 26 starts, finishing with a 4.04 ERA.
“I felt I was advanced as a pitcher and could take on that challenge,” Hatch said. “When you actually get in there, you get blindsided. Everybody’s just as good as you are in pro ball. Getting hit by a rock and hit by failure for the first time, that was hard. But I feel like I made the necessary adjustments and had a good year at the end.”
No. 7 prospect in Cubs’ organization
The Cubs and the scouts obviously felt the same way. Hatch opened the season as Chicago’s No. 7 minor league prospect according to MLB.com. The 23-year old from Tulsa, Okla,. has been a consistent presence for Tennessee, amassing a 5-3 record with a 3.42 ERA in 13 starts.
“His (Hatch’s) composure, his demeanor and the way he goes about his business, it’s like he’s been here a couple of years,” Smokies manager Mark Johnson said. “He’s at a higher level. He’s been fun to watch.”
On the day before his starts, Hatch charts pitches in preparation and spends the whole time analyzing every aspect of the opposing batters and his fellow pitchers. He’s laser-focused, trying to pick up any tool he can add to his arsenal.
“The higher you go up, the more the scouting reports go into getting hitters out,” Hatch said. “Last year and in college, sometimes, I was just better than people and overpowered them. The playing field has evened out. The more I can do to get an upper hand, the better. I’m learning to read swings and read tendencies on hitters. It’s really helped this year.”
Adam Greene is a freelance contributor.