Blue Jays: Is Thomas Hatch better suited for the bullpen?

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 11: Thomas Hatch #31 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during game two of a doubleheader at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 11, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 11: Thomas Hatch #31 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during game two of a doubleheader at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 11, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /

Heading into the 2022 season, the Toronto Blue Jays appear to have one open spot when it comes to filling out the five-man rotation. Unless they bring in a veteran free agent or trade for a player before the deadline, that spot will be filled by one of the multiple internal options the club has such as Nate Pearson, Anthony Kay, Zach Logue, Bowden Francis, and Ross Stripling.

Another name in the mix is Thomas Hatch, a right-handed pitcher who was acquired at the 2019 trade deadline in exchange for reliever David Phelps (who is back again with the Jays organization).

A former third-round pick out of Oklahoma State University, Hatch made his Major League debut back in 2020 for the Jays, appearing in 17 games but mostly pitching in relief. He would finish the campaign with a 2.83 ERA through 26.1 innings with 7.9 K/9 and a 4.4 BB/9 and was used mostly as a middle relief arm in the sixth and seventh innings.

In the 2021 campaign, Hatch had an opportunity to crack the Opening Day roster but started the year on the injured list with an elbow injury. He would make three appearances in the Majors this past season but pitched to mixed results, allowing seven earned runs through 9.1 innings of work and failing to make it out of the fourth inning through two different starts. The walks were also a problem for Hatch, as he allowed six base on balls during those three outings. He would finish the campaign on the IL due to hamstring tightness.

Looking at Hatch’s role with the Toronto Blue Jays, he is in some tough competition if the club is wanting him to be a starter at the big league level. Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, and Alek Manoah are around for at least five more seasons contract wise while Hyun Jin Ryu has two years left on his current deal. Add in internal prospects that I mentioned earlier and Hatch’s route to the Majors appears to be blocked barring a multitude of injuries to the rotation. Even then, would the other prospects like Francis, Logue, or Joey Murray (if not picked up during the Rule 5 Draft) get the call before him?

After a rough 2021 campaign, Blue Jays pitcher Thomas Hatch may have to convert to a reliever if he plans to crack the active roster this season.

There is no question that Hatch does have the ability to start, evident by his 4.04 ERA through 15 outings in AAA last season in which 14 were starts. The problem is that he hasn’t really put it together at the Major League level when given the chance. Mind you, the sample size is small and relegated to just three games, but his opportunity of making the roster and showing the club he can be a big-league starter might have slipped by when he was on the injured list this past season.

With the club set on trying to contend and looking to make the postseason, unless injuries run rampant, the Blue Jays might not be as flexible at letting a younger prospect try and work through some rough outings at the Major League level. Hatch has also had an issue with his command, posting a 4.4 BB/9 in 2020 and a 5.8 BB/9 in 2021. The latest year stat is obviously flawed to a degree in that he only appeared in three games but even as a reliever in 2020 he struggled to keep the free passes in check. In the minors last season he did post a solid walk rate of 2.6 BB/9 but hasn’t been able to carry that over to the Major League level yet.

Alternatively, Hatch did also have success as a bullpen pitcher back in 2020, which could be a way for him to crack the active roster this season. Right now it appears that the club will have potentially two open spots if the Jays ride with an eight-man bullpen and considering the club has some relief pitchers with IL history, this could be better suited for him long-term.

The only issue with making Hatch into a reliever is that it is always nice to have starting depth in the minor leagues, a luxury that has certainly paid off in the past. However, with the likes of Logue, Francis, Kay, and Murray, the club could decide to convert one or two into starters into relievers and still have some depth in AAA if they so choose.

Steamer projections currently predict Hatch will appear in 28 games next season and only two of them will be starts, posting a 4.53 ERA through 35.0 innings pitched. This would point more towards him being a relief pitcher and potentially riding the options bus all campaign, as he does have two minor league options at his disposal.

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While he has been used as a starter for most of his professional career, unless Hatch is moved this offseason, his best chance of making the Major League roster may have to involve a permanent move to the bullpen.