Cubs allow '16 top pick Hatch to ease into pro ball

Cubs allow '16 top pick Hatch to ease into pro ball

CHICAGO -- Thomas Hatch, who was the Cubs' first selection in last June's Draft, didn't pitch in a Minor League game for the team after he was picked, but he did get exposed to life in the big leagues and the postseason.

Hatch, who was taken in the third round (No. 104 overall) out of Oklahoma State, attended instructional league in Mesa, Ariz., and then joined Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach to watch the Pelicans' playoff run. The right-hander did not pitch in 2015 because of a sprained ulnar collateral ligament that didn't require surgery, and then led Oklahoma State to the College World Series in 2016, logging significant innings.

"When we looked at the injury history he had and the amount of innings he threw in 2016, we thought it was really irresponsible to try to push him," said Cubs director of amateur scouting Matt Dorey during a seminar on the Minor Leagues on Sunday at the Cubs Convention.

By being in Arizona and working out with the young Cubs in instructional league, Hatch was able to get acclimated to professional baseball.

"It's a really tough transition for these guys," Dorey said. "This was great for Tom, because he could go down to Arizona and relax and build his own routine.

"I would say he's a pretty advanced college right-hander with a combination of stuff and strikes," Dorey said.

Hatch was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Year last season after posting a 7-2 record and 2.16 ERA in 16 starts, striking out 102. Jaron Madison, director of player development, said they have yet to determine where Hatch will open the 2017 Minor League season. The right-hander is ranked 14th on MLBPipeline.com's list of the Cubs' top 30 prospects.

• Speaking of pitching, the Cubs are excited about the progress of right-hander Dylan Cease, who was a sixth-round pick in 2014 and is ranked third on the top 30 prospects list. Cease was one of three high school pitchers the Cubs chose that year, following lefties Justin Steele and Carson Sands, who were taken in the fourth and fifth rounds, and are ranked Nos. 23 and 24 on MLBPipeline.com's list.

Top Prospects: Cease, CHC

"He's absolutely one of the more exciting prospects we have in our organization," Jason McLeod, director of scouting and player development, said of Cease, 21, who started 12 games last year at Class A Short Season Eugene, striking out 66 over 44 2/3 innings.

Cease's fastball has been clocked at 100 mph, McLeod said, and he has a power curveball as well. The right-hander is still developing a third pitch, but McLeod noted Cease has "a special arm" and he's unlike any pitcher they've had in the organization since Theo Epstein took over as president of baseball operations.

As for the other two, McLeod said Steele is very athletic, but didn't have a good year on paper in 2016, while Sands has not progressed in terms of arm speed.

"The stuff is there [with Sands] and he's a great athlete -- he just didn't have a good year," McLeod said.

Both Sands and Steele pitched at Class A South Bend. Sands, 21, appeared in 21 games (14 starts) and posted a 5.91 ERA, while Steele, 21, had a 5.00 ERA in 19 starts.

Other pitching prospects to keep an eye on include right-handers Oscar De La Cruz (No. 7), Trevor Clifton (No. 8), Jose Albertos (No. 9), Pierce Johnson (No. 17) and Ryan Williams (No. 18).

• McLeod was asked about how the organization deals with players who don't hustle out of the batter's box, and he mentioned that Cubs manager Joe Maddon's motto is "Respect 90." Maddon removed Jorge Soler from a couple games during the 2016 season for not hustling, McLeod said.

"Every single person, in whatever realm of life you're in, whatever occupation you're in, you can control your best effort," McLeod said.

The Cubs have painted "Respect 90" on all of their Minor League fields to emphasize that message.

Top Prospects: Martinez, CHC

• Eddy Julio Martinez is someone to watch in the Cubs' organization. The right-handed-hitting outfielder from Cuba signed with the Cubs late in 2015 and is ranked No. 13 on the top 30 prospects list. Madison said Martinez has all the tools and is very versatile. The 21-year-old just needs to learn more about how pitchers are trying to approach him.

"He's an exciting player to watch, and I think you'll know his name real soon," Madison said.

Last year, in his first season in the U.S., Martinez batted .254 in 126 games for South Bend, hitting 10 home runs, 24 doubles and driving in 67 runs.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.