2014 Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects: K.C. Hobson – Honourable Mention
Before we get the ball rolling on our actual top 30 list, some of us wanted to whet your appetite with a couple of prospects that didn’t make the list but you should probably keep an eye on. The first of these is first baseman K.C. Hobson. In this post, we’re going to diverge from our formula to solve the mystery that is K.C.
Name: K.C. Hobson
Position: First base
Date of Birth: 08/22/1990 (23 on Opening Day of 2014)
Acquired: Selected in the 6th round of the 2009 MLB Draft ($500,000 signing bonus)
High School: Stockdale HS (Stockdale, CA)
Height/Weight: 6’2″/205 lbs
Minor League Stats
2012/2013 Canberra Cavalry K.C. Hobson Card Front. Mandatory Credit: Adam East
The son of former big leaguer Butch Hobson, K.C. is one of the few hitters with big-time power in a system that has all too few of them in the mid-to-high levels. Hobson’s a deep sleeper but I really think that he’s going to bounce back from a 2013 season that clearly went under the radar. I’ve been keeping an eye on Hobson since 2012 when he basically added a ton of power and improved his batting average playing for the Lansing Lugnuts over a 2011 season on the same team. How did he add power? He went from 24 doubles and four home runs to 43 doubles (a team record) and 10 home runs in one year, adding 100 points to his slugging percentage. He also did it without selling out contact for power, striking out only 12 more times than in the previous season.
Now that we’ve talked about his 2012, let’s dig into Hobson’s 2013 numbers a little bit. First of all, let’s take a look at the environments in which he’s been playing. The 2012 Midwest League was a much better hitter’s environment than the 2013 Florida State League (FSL). The Midwest League in 2012 averaged 4.61 runs per game (and the Lansing Lugnuts were actually above that with 4.91 R/G). The 2013 FSL averaged only 4.15 runs per game and while the overall batting average and OBP were almost exactly the same (each was actually within one point of the other), the slugging percentage in the FSL this year was nine points lower than the 2012 Midwest League.
Home runs, in particular, were hit at a rate of 0.548 per game this year in the FSL while in the 2012 Midwest League, they were hit at a rate 0.633 per game. The Lansing Lugnuts as a whole (in 2012) hit home runs at a 0.547 rate, mainly because they play in a stadium that makes home runs tough to come by. Lansing hit only 75 home runs and Hobson accounted for just over 13% of those. In 2013, Dunedin hit, wait for it, 75 home runs and Hobson accounted for 19 dingers for a percentage of just over 25% of the team’s home runs. Hobson didn’t only hit more balls out of the park than anyone else on the team, he finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Florida State League with about 85 fewer plate appearances than anyone in the top five. So despite missing the first two weeks of the season with an injury, Hobson not only kept pace with some of the best sluggers in a tough league on hitters but he excelled.
Ok, but why the J.P. Arencibia-esque batting average and OBP (.215 BA/.258 OBP)? Aha, good question. I’m glad you asked. Well, you see, the first part of that equation can be answered by his significant, four percent drop in walk rate. In 2012, he walked a 10.1% rate which fell to just 6% in 2013. Not incredibly bad but he went from being about 2% above average to about 2% below average.
The other part of the equation also easier to solve with one little acronym: BABIP. Hobson actually maintained his strikeout rate very well going from Low-A to High-A (it rose 0.7% from 15.3% to 16.0%) and with the increase in home runs, we can say that Hobson was putting the ball in play slightly below the rate that he did in 2012.* But here’s the kicker: Hobson’s BABIP was 99 points lower in 2013 than in 2012. Yes, that’s right. 99 points lower. And it wasn’t even high to begin with. His BABIP in 2012 was .307 and the Midwest League average was .305. In 2013, his BABIP was .208 and the Florida State League average was .304.
So here’s a question that we can solve with some math. What would K.C. Hobson’s batting average have been if he had put the ball in play at league average numbers? Although my math is pretty bad, basically, I substituted our league-average BABIP into the left side of the equation (.304) and solved for X which is how many hits Hobson would have gotten. By my calculations, Hobson would have had 115 hits (I rounded down) with a batting average of .290. Assuming everything else stays the same (walks, HBP, HRs, extra-base hits), Hobson would have hit for a .290/.327/.490 triple slash line, good for .817 OPS. where the league average was .696. I wont even bother making the case that, of his extra 30 hits, at least 10 would have likely been doubles, further increasing his slugging percentage.
Yes, K.C. Hobson has been overlooked but I’m sure the Blue Jays have looked into the numbers and know that not only was he hitting the ball out of the park at a rate that was extremely impressive for the league level but he was also getting absurdly unlucky. I have a feeling that when his numbers regress in 2014, in a fairly neutral hitting environment in New Hampshire, K.C. Hobson will start to open some eyes. He hits the ball hard, doesn’t strike out a lot and has shown the ability to walk at least at league average rates.
2014 Outlook, Risk, ETA
I’m going to say that Hobson starts 2014 in Double-A New Hampshire playing first base and DH for the Fisher Cats. Hobson spent some time in his youth in Nashua, New Hampshire, just a few miles down the road from Manchester (where the Fisher Cats play) and I know that the Blue Jays like to have players play near their homes whenever possible (see Kevin Nolan, another Nashua native who played in Manchester in 2013). The only real risk for Hobson, a left-handed hitter is that he doesn’t hit left-handed pitchers all that well. While his strikeout numbers didn’t suffer too much facing southpaws, his power numbers were much lower, with a 136 point deficit in slugging percentage against lefties. If he can figure out how to go the other way with power against left-handed pitching, then Hobson might have a shot at The Show as an every day player. If not, he might be a platoon guy who can mash from the left side. Either way, if he does make the majors, it’ll be some time in 2015 at the earliest.
*Home runs are not counted as balls in play. The formula for BABIP is (H – HR) / (AB – K – HR + SF)
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