BUIES CREEK, N.C.—Thomas Hatch had to wait nearly 10 months to make his professional debut after signing with the Cubs.
Now that the 22-year-old righthander is back on the mound, he is loving every minute of it.
Hatch, the Cubs' No. 13 prospect, struck out five in 4.2 innings in his second professional start for high Class A Myrtle Beach on Wednesday afternoon, ultimately taking the loss in a 5-1 defeat to host Buies Creek (Astros).
"I'm really excited," Hatch said. "For it to be able to count, to be in a game that matters, it's different."
The Cubs made Hatch their top pick in the 2016 draft, taking him in the third round out of Oklahoma State and signing him for a $573,900 bonus, but Hatch didn't pitch for them because he threw 130.1 innings for the Cowboys as they made a deep run to the College World Series.
Rather than add to his workload after signing, the Cubs opted to rest Hatch and limit his pitching to instructional league, especially considering he missed 2015 with an elbow strain.
While it was frustrating to sit out, Hatch is seeing the rewards now.
"I feel great, my arm feels great," Hatch said. "Today I felt like my stuff was really good. People were swinging and missing and I got some ground balls. Just a couple of pitches here and there from throwing five scoreless I felt like."
Hatch pitched five innings with one hit and no earned runs allowed in his professional debut against Lynchburg last week and was solid Wednesday before running into trouble at the end. He didn't allow an earned run through 4.2 innings before giving up three hits and three runs with two outs in the fifth, including a Kyle Tucker two-run double.
Hatch's fastball comfortably sat 92-94 mph with sink and his 83-85 mph slider froze hitters when it landed in the zone and got swings and misses when he buried it in the dirt. He also showcased an 81 mph changeup to round out his arsenal.
"He's fun to catch," Myrtle Beach catcher Tyler Alamo said. "The guy's got crazy movement with his sinker. He knows how to pitch. He was picked where he was for a reason.
"His last start back in Lynchburg he was spot on. He was missing low if anything. He was on point and that's what I saw in spring training, he was the same way. He was unbelievably dominant in spring training just carving guys up. He has the capability to do that, to be that dominating guy."
Hatch said his next step is to mix in his changeup more—he only threw 5-6 changeups in 81 pitches by his count—and do it against lefthanded hitters in particular. The hope is that will help him better make it through an order a third time as well as neutralize lefties.
Regardless, it's a developmental step he is happy to be working on in games rather than on practice fields.
"It's fun when it matters," Hatch said, smiling. "You get a little more juice going."
NEWS AND NOTES
• Astros righthander Akeem Bostick retired the first 11 batters and finished with six scoreless innings, two hits allowed, one walk and six strikeouts. His fastball sat 90-92 mph and touched 95 and he mixed in an effective 82-84 mph slider. Most importantly he threw 48 of 71 (67.6 percent) pitches for strikes. He has walked three in 11 innings this season after walking 5.5 per nine in high Class A a year ago.
• Tucker, the Astros No. 2 prospect, started in right field and went 1-for-3 with a double, a walk and a hit by pitch. He lined a two-out, two-strike pitch from Hatch the opposite way down the left-field line for his two-run double and is now hitting .33/.419/.617 through six games.
• Cubs No. 11 prospect Eddy Martinez started in right field and went 0-for-4. He lined out hard to right field in his first at-bat, hit two routine grounders to third and flied to right in his final plate appearance. Martinez also showed impressive arm strength from right on a throw to the plate, but it was high and up the first base line.