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June 23, 2010

Give the kid a chance

Let me start out with a disclaimer: This is not meant as puff piece defending the Orioles and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail. The team is horrible – we’re talking historically atrocious – and, as Sun columnist Peter Schmuck has written, there’s legitimate reason for concern about the minor league system, too.

But one thing I’ve grown weary of is fans’ ripping on pitcher Matt Hobgood, the Orioles’ first-round pick (No. 5 overall) of the 2009 first-year player draft out of Norco (Calif.) High.

Hobgood, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound right-hander, is 3-6 with a 4.48 ERA in 12 starts for the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds this season. In first professional season, he was 1-2 with a 4.72 ERA in eight starts for Rookie-level Bluefield.

Sure, those numbers are far from impressive, but let’s keep in mind that the kid isn’t even out of his teen years yet (he turns 20 in August). Many players drafted out of high school – even those who go on to become bona fide superstars – take years to develop, a fact you would think wouldn’t be lost on any serious fan of the game.

But in reading comments from some posters on Orioles Insider or The Schmuck Stops Here and talking baseball with some Orioles fans, they would have you believe that Hobgood is a bust, doesn’t have what it takes, is one of the team’s worst first-round picks of all time, etc.

Obviously, I’m not talking to all of you, but I’ve heard Hobgood’s name dragged through the mud more times than I care to count, and I just don’t get it. Again, the kid is 19. To say that he is already a failure isn’t just wrong; it’s stupid.

Look, I’m not saying Hobgood is going to pan out to be a phenomenal pitcher or even necessarily a good one. Heck, he might turn out to actually be a bust. I don’t know, and that’s the point – none of us knows yet. It’s just too early to tell. Yet there are plenty of people who already label drafting Hobgood as a disaster on the part of MacPhail and the Orioles. Why, because he’s not tearing through the minor leagues like Josh Beckett or other early first-round picks out of high school before him?

Sure, it’d be great if Hobgood were lighting up the minors and burning holes in hitters’ bats. But the fact that he isn’t is no indication that he won’t mature into a quality pitcher.

Find that hard to swallow? Look up the minor league statistics for Ubaldo Jimenez, the Colorado Rockies ace and Cy Young Award candidate who leads the major leagues this year with a 13-1 record and 1.15 ERA in 14 starts. Jimenez, a Dominican who entered the professional ranks at the age of 18, endured struggles at almost every level of the minors (6.53 ERA in 14 starts for Rookie-level Casper in 2002; 5.43 ERA in 12 games for Double-A Tulsa in 2005; 5.06 ERA in 13 starts for Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2006; 5.85 ERA in 19 starts for Colorado Springs in 2007). Even Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley posted a 4.80 ERA in 12 starts for High-A Reno as a 17-year-old in 1972. Those aren’t the only examples of young pitchers who had a rough go of it in the minors before going to achieve greatness in the bigs, just two particularly compelling ones.

Am I saying Hobgood is going to turn out to put up jaw-dropping numbers like Jimenez or go on to a Hall of Fame major league career like Eckersley? Absolutely not. But imagine how foolish you’d feel if you had written off either of those guys after some less-than-desirable minor league performances.

And yet, some people have no problem doing that with Hobgood, a player who has yet to play a full season as a professional and who can’t even sip a beer legally. It’s astounding to me.
I have no problem with criticism when it’s deserved, and as soon as Hobgood signed a contract with the Orioles, he opened himself up to be thrust under a microscope. If you want to dissect every pitch the kid throws in the minor leagues, go nuts. If you want to pick apart his delivery or question his conditioning, have a field day. But let’s at least be rational and fair in our evaluations of Hobgood.

Branding a pitcher a bust before he has had a chance to start more than 20 games in the minors – or, better yet, suggesting that the Orioles turn him into a hitter because he clearly doesn’t have what it takes on the mound, as one Orioles Insider reader did in a recent post -- is short-sighted and a waste of everyone’s time.

(As an aside, I’m not ignoring the fact that some of the criticism of Hobgood stems from the perception that MacPhail and the Orioles selected him because he was an easy, quick sign, and that fellow pitchers Mike Leake and Drew Storen, taken eighth and 10th overall, respectively, in the same draft, are already in the majors and excelling. Those are valid points, and I’m not giving MacPhail and the club a pass on those. But let’s give Hobgood some time to show what he’s got before we blast him as an awful draft pick.)

Posted by Steve Gould at 8:00 AM | | Comments (50)
        

Comments

Well said, Steve. Completely agree. How in the world can Hobgood be clearly evaluated at this point? To say he's a bust is ludicrous. Give him some time.

Schmucker:
Well said. Your comparison with Jimenez was a great illustration. That point needed to be illustrated because it seems that losing brings out the worst in some of the malingerers who blog on this site. Stop throwing the kid under the bus, give him a chance. The important thing is what the scouts and our front office think of the kid, not what the disgruntled fans think.

RESPONSE FROM STEVE GOULD: I appreciate it, Deke, but just to be clear, I'm not the Schmucker.

I like Hobgood but I think he's a reliever. He could be Bobby Jenks like ??? I agree, fans need to let things play out

Your comment on Hobgood (and McPhail's choice of him) is valid. Pitchers are often working on developing their repertoire and command in the minors, not trying to pile up great statistics. We don't know what the club has decided needs to be developed with each player, which means we don't have the criteria to judge. It takes time. It's one thing for a player to refine his swing and develop an approach as a hitter. It's another for him to develop the discipline and pitch recognition to implement it when he's at the plate. It all takes time.
Even McPhail's plan takes time, and there are inevitable setbacks. This year has been far more problematic than expected. Pitchers haven't dominated like we fantasized they'd dominate. The young hitters haven't met our expectations -- yet. Other moves intended to fill spaces while players develop haven't worked out. Signing Atkins looked like a good idea at the time. Getting Lugo... okay, I never did get that one... but it didn't really cost the Orioles a lot. Tejada hasn't hit with power. Markakis isn't a power hitter; probably never will be. There was no middle infield depth. The infield defense is not very good but when you're having trouble scoring runs, you trade off defense for offense. Some of the relief pitchers haven't pitched well... happens every year to every team. Gonzalez may still succeed. The managers (Trembley and Samuel) seem to be stuck in the old-days paradigm... Who calls for a sacrifice bunt in the seventh inning when you're three runs behind (Izturis, Sunday in SD)? Who complains about the bullpen being overused when he's the one changing the pitchers? (Sometimes a pitcher has to learn to pitch... and take the lumps that come with the experience.) Yes a more modern manager is needed.
It has been painful to watch the Orioles this year -- but no less painful than to read the constant natterings of some who post on this site.
Orioles fans are lucky... they can travel a short distance and watch the upcoming players. Forget spending $40 for a ticket to Oriole Park. Forget about winning and focus on the developing players. Lighten up!!! It is just a game.

I think there is more pressure on the O's that he develops because he was an unexpected pick, unlike this year when they went with the obvious choice. He probably will be a bust because the vast majority of high school players never pan out (I don't understand how any team chooses and pays someone out of high school in the first round). The fact that he is struggling at the lowest of levels is not a good sign. The fact that Jiminez (an amateur free agent, not a first round pick getting a huge signing bonus) and Eckersley (drafted 38 years ago in the third round) are your best examples of pitchers who struggled some at the lower levels is not convincing. I hope in 4-5 years he is pitching well for the O's, but they obviously could have had Leake or Storen as almost sure things right now. I can say with probably 90-95% certainty that given the present facts, Hobgood will be another waste of a high draft pick. Not surprising, with a scouting staff about half of the rest of the teams in the division, a player development system that feuds with the scouts, the organization is incapable of finding and producing players at the same rate as the competition. Add the fact that they've done a poor job bringing in free agents, is it any wonder they are on their way to being historically bad, and getting worse?

Steve,

Your points are valid and fair. It's much too early to judge Hobgood or label him a bust. Having said that, don't you think it's fair for fans to say they would rather have Mike Leake, Tanner Scheppers or Shelby Miller? They were all available at #5.

RESPONSE FROM STEVE GOULD: Chuck, I absolutely think it's fair for fans to say they'd rather have any of those guys (though, other than his impressive strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio, Miller isn't exactly lighting it up this year either). My argument wasn't that fans should be happy with the Orioles' picking Hobgood over others, simply that he should get some more time to prove himself before people write him off.

It's way too early to call Hobgood a bust. Every draft pick is a crap shoot. On the other hand, I'm not going to pay much attention to a 19-year old kid who didn't bother to lose weight and get in shape before his first professional season. When he shows he's ready to put in the effort to live up to the faith the O's have demonstrated in him, I'll pay attention.

The argument can be made that a lot of very good pitchers have been fat. But if you look at photos of them when they were Hobgood's age, they weren't fat back then. They learned how to pitch and succeed at the major league level before they got their gut.

Unless this kid wants to be compared with Sidney Ponson on a regular basis, he'd better step away from the buffet.

Steve,
You are correct in many levels, especially about not judging Hobgood this year. But it's not about that. It's about the fact that Hobgood was not the best player available at that pick and everybody knew that at that time. We passed up several potential high impact players to pick a guy that signed for slot money when this is a system crying out for high impact players. Hobgood is not, and never was, projected as a high impact player. Look at the players who were graded above Hobgood and how they're doing - Mike Leake and Drew Storen are productive major leaguers, Aaron Crow tore up AAA and is in the majors, Grant Green is hitting .320 with power as a SS (we don't need one of them in the system, do we?), and Tyler Matzek & Alex White are tearing up the minors. All of these players were ranked higher than Hobgood before the draft so it's not like we're using hindsight to rip MacPhail. Draft expert Keith Law said Hobgood was a good pick but that he would have taken someone else who had greater potential, like Crow or Matzek. Hobgood MAY turn out to be a quality major league pitcher but wouldn't you rather have a guy with a higher upside and that consistently produces high results? Would any exec now trade one of the above players even up for Hobgood? No way. When you pass on top prospects to sign a guy for slot money, no matter how much you like him, there's going to be critics. And when the guys you passed up are having extreme success and the guy you picked is struggling, there are going to be cries that a mistake was made. Especially when a guy you passed up, Mike Leake, has 5 wins at the major league level, which is 2 more than any Orioles starting pitcher.

RESPONSE FROM STEVE GOULD: All good points, Fritz, and, as a I said at the bottom of my post, valid ones.

Before anyone rips Matt Hobgood, let me share some names of some REAL busts...Chris Smith, Richard Stahl, Beau Hale, Billy Rowell.

Another example of a pitcher who struggled initially and gained prospect status is Zach Britton.

Britton's rookie season in 2006 with Bluefield was worse than Hobgood's, and consequently the Orioles held him back the next year, sending him to Aberdeen instead of Delmarva. He improved, and as anyone who follows the O's minor leagues knows, Britton is now our top pitching prospect.

Just by being in Delmarva, Hobgood is ahead of schedule, and even if he had to go back to Delmarva next year, he has time on his side. At 19, he is one of the youngest pitchers in that league.

I'm not interested in winning fictional points by ripping people, and I agree that it is too early for a final judgment on a high-risk situation like a high school pitcher.

What I would like to know is, numbers aside, how's he looking? I agree that pitchers with raw stuff can put up bad numbers, but is the pure stuff there? I know he is walking people, throwing wild pitches left and right, etc., but does this seem fixable? Does he have guts and brains? Is he a good learner? Is his conditioning poor? I feel like I don't hear all that stuff either, and we're forced to rely on numbers to guess.

The real bust is Andy MacPhail. He is trying to bring the small market mentality to the AL East and to a team that has the resources to compete but chooses not to use them. The real plan was complete when Pete received guarantees from MLB on the value of the franchise and the MASN profits.

Excellent pointed article but everyone is not a serious objective fan, Some are just plain foul mouthed serious bitchers. They are stupid as you pointed out. Hobgod deserves his chance and time. I hesitate to even declare Rowe or Snyder a bust. Snyder may still become a good ML bat though I doubt he has the power we need at 1B. Anyone who remembers an orioles high draft pick named Werner and was such a late bloomer no one can question what he does for philly now.. Check out Jay Gibbons numbers in dodgers AAA. I still believe texas Chris Davis 24 who is back in AAA (and blocked by Justin Smoak) would be a trade we could make reasonably and he might be the next Adrian Gonzalez, he is certainly above any options we have now. Fox will be a very good bench and role player for us..

You are correct. Hobgood is not a bust yet and can't be for several more years. BUT, the problem is that they picked him when there were presumably better picks available. And to date, those picks are performing better. So the blame is on the Front Office for reaching for this guy and him not demonstrating why they reached for him. When you reach like that, you better know something.

It's the same thing (on a much smaller scale) as the criticism heaped on Houston Texans when they took Mario Williams instead of Reggie Bush. Why did they reach there (besides money)? They could have taken Bush or traded the pick (not an option in baseball). But instead they wanted to prove how smart they were (and save money). They took the less heralded player. While Williams has been good (and Bush at best a mixed bag), they still could have traded down and taken Williams and received another pick or two.

Here the Orioles could have taken the higher rated players, but either wanted to show how smart they were, wanted to save money or (probably) both. The Orioles deserve criticism for that, not the kid, who is presumably doing his best.

Problem is there were better options on the board

Well said Steve, And Grant, wow!!!! And I agree that it's way to early to call Rowell( who is just 21) or Snyder busts.

Indeed, for those who love ripping the Orioles, to say that they will never be successful is off the mark. This team is 19-52 for one simple reason, the offense is awful, certainly not what was expected from a team that was fifth in the league in hitting last year. True, they were 11th in runs scored, but with the expected continued development of the young cornerstones, that was supposed to improve. Instead, we have guys who are/were injured, or otherwise regressed. Does that make them bad baseball players? No. Just means they are playing bad baseball, and the thing is, they are all having their slumps at the same time, which magnifies everything. They are just as likely to turn it around in the next season or two.

And this does not mean "The Plan" is a failure. The oldest of the cornerstones is 26. Jones is in his third year, Wieters his second, Reimold his second, and Pie has never played a full season or been given a chance or the long haul. Even guys like Montanez, Moore, and Hughes have had no more than cups of coffee, so we really don't know what they've got.

Another thing to consider is that in the old days, which really weren't so long ago, rookies didn't make the leap until the were a bit older. If a guy was 24 or 25, that used to be considered young. That meant he spent four or five years honing his craft in the minors. Not so anymore. Possibly the greatest left hander of all time, Sandy Koufax, didn't have a good season until he was 27, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, two future HoFers, were abysmal in their first years. Steve gave the examples of Jimenez and Eckersley. People, sometimes it does take time.

I have confidence that MacPhail and Angelos will make moves designed to improve the team. Mac's history in Chicago says so and the owner has said he will spend the money. Again, I take them at their word until proven otherwise.

So, people, chill out, enjoy the summer in one of America's great ball parks. More than half the season remains, anything is possible.

I don't completely disagree with this here. A 19-year old is really tough to evaluate and dismissing one entirely that has made a reasonably solid transition to the pro-level is not particularly intelligent. That he's 19 and pitching to the tune of a 4.48 ERA in A-ball show that he knows how to pitch and may be a useful player for the team down the line.

The problem is that his numbers right now aren't showing much possibility for that happening. One of the primary indicators people look to estimate a pitcher's ceiling is his strikeout and walk ratios. A strong strikeout ratio is indicative of outstanding stuff, while a strong walk ratio is indicative of great command. It would otherwise sound like a generalization, but it's classically been an exceptionally bad sign to see a pitcher who succeeds in neither. Almost without fail, pitchers who experience success in the majors will be strong in one of these two categories, even at the early stages of their career. While Jimenez and Eckersley had poor ERAs at the early stages in their career, they had very strong strikeout ratios, suggesting that they both had great stuff but weren't quite masters at using it. That sort of thing is not uncommon. Johan Santana was similar.

While it's somewhat early to make a final decision about Hobgood, his strikeout and walk ratios are profoundly discouraging, particularly for someone taken with the fifth pick in the draft ahead of two guys(Leake and Storen) who are already producing for big-league clubs. Hobgood's strikeout per 9 inning ratio is 5.73 and his walk per 9 inning ratio is 3.75. Sure, it's early, but I am not familiar with a quality major league pitcher that reached a high level despite experiencing such a lack of success in both these categories during his first two seasons. I'm sure they're out there, but they're really rare, even for very young guys.

So there's no confusion, 5.7 for a strikeout ratio is exceptionally low. Brad Bergesen was completely dismissed by most people around baseball as not being a major league pitcher due to his career minor league strikeout ratio(which was, ironically, 5.7). They seem to be wrong, of course, but this was because he had remarkable command, as his 1.7 career walk ratio in the minors would attest. Hobgood cannot boast this at the moment.

Sure, I don't know how Hobgood will develop, but if he really had outstanding stuff to justify the 5th pick in a draft, you'd be seeing some semblance of that through his peripheral statistics. I wouldn't bet money that he won't make the major leagues, since I have no way of really knowing that, but I would bet money that he will never be an impact player to the point where his exceedingly high draft status is justified. A lot of scouts panned the pick of Hobgood as a major reach, and there's nothing to suggest that they were wrong.


Also, to clarify: I'm not really one of the major Oriole haters either, and this is my first time really evaluating Hobgood apart from just passively looking at his ERA once or twice. I really like what they did with their farm system and think that they've done a really strong job with the draft the past few years. While things aren't turning out the way they expected, I don't really hold it against them. I believe this year(both in the majors and the minors) is more of a product of bad luck than being wholly unprepared going into the season. Usually you don't see an entire organization experience an inexplicable diversion in developmental patterns for ALL their significant prospects, but that's really been the case, short of Arrieta and Zach Britton.

I guess overall my point is that Hobgood should be defended to some extent, since it is early, but I don't think it's really too early to suggest that the Orioles made what looks like a poor pick here. I don't think this is really some great examples of the organization's failings. They took a gamble on a young pitcher and it's not looking good so far. It happens to everybody.

A little more research on your part would have helped. The young man's fastball sits in the 80's. There's little chance he will succeed at that level.

RESPONSE FROM STEVE GOULD: You're right Dave, clearly there has never been a pitcher to succeed in the majors with a fastball in the 80s. Sarcasm aside, obviously velocity is a concern, but it's hardly the end-all, be-all measuring stick of a pitcher (though clearly when a player is drafted as high as Hobgood was, you'd expect he can bring the heat). As gfrank pointed out, his strikeout and walk ratios per nine innings are a lot more concerning. That being said, again, the kid is 19. He has plenty of time to work on this stuff.

Your last paragraph is at the crux of the problem here. It's not so much the player, but the team selecting him. Hobgood was a consensus 20-28 selection, but the Orioles took him fifth. No problem with that if they felt that strong about him. However, immediately upon being selected by the team, Joe Jordan tells MLB TV that Hobgood was projected to be on a 5 year plan to the major leagues. After 12 straight losing seasons, many fans wondered--me included--if there were other players available who could help the big club a lot sooner...like Brian Matusz the year earlier. When Leake and Storen showed that, indeed, there were, it fueled the suspicion that the team had taken the wrong guy. Given the team's abyssmal player/talent evaluations over the past decade, this is perceived as another bad decision by the people running the team.

None of this is Hobgood's fault. He didn't ask to be drafted by the Orioles.
However, this does put the problem a lot of fans have with his selection in context. Fans are desperate for the quality of players to improve so the team will be competitive. Since the team has made no impact in free agency since Tejada (the first time), our best hope is the amateur draft. We have zero margin for error so it perhaps unfairly puts pressure on a high school kid who may deserve better.

gfrank said most everything I wanted to say. I too am not an Orioles hater, and big picture I'm behind MacPhail (though this last offseason was clearly his worst).

However, two major points: 1) With all due respect, I don't know how you write that entire article only to say at the end that you're ignoring the fact that he was overpicked in the draft. That's the major source of frustration for so many of us who have expressed disappointment in Hobgood. And I'm not a MMQB, so I'm not going to sit here and bemoan the fact we didn't take Leake or Storen because nobody had them ranked as high as #4 either (Storen was a pure signability pick who was projected in the 20s). But Miller, Tyler Matzek, Jacob Turner, and Zack Wheeler were all universally ranked ahead of Hobgood, and they are all currently outperforming him. Instead, we take Hobgood and sign him because we're told it will allow us to go over slot for later picks like Coffey and Ohlman. That's fine and good, but then we blow more than $15 million on Garrett Atkins, Miguel Tejada, and Michael Gonzalez and we're supposed to believe they couldn't have found an extra few million to draft the best guy AND go over slot?

2) As gfrank said, forget about ERAs. The key stats for evaluating a 19 year old pitcher in low-A are K/9 and K/BB. Those other guys I mentioned who we could have/should have taken are performing well to exceptionally well in those categories while Hobgood has been abysmal. And while Ubaldo Jimenez didn't dominate in those categories, his numbers there were significantly better than Hobgood's, which is why he was twice ranked a top 100 prospect despite the ERA.

In short, I'm not giving up on Hobgood, and you are right there's no telling what he will become. But the frustration that stemmed from the O's not taking one of the elite talents has been justified thus far. Hobgood is currently not an elite prospect, while many of the guys ranked ahead of him going into the draft are. That's incredibly frustrating for those of us who are willing to accept the losing in hopes of building a solid foundation around high draft picks.

RESPONSE FROM STEVE GOULD: Ben, yours and gfrank's arguments are good ones. I tried to stress that I'm not saying Orioles fans shouldn't be frustrated with the pick. Obviously it's tough watching Leake and Storen succeed in the bigs while the guy the Orioles picked ahead of them is nowhere near ready for the major leagues. My point was: Criticize the organization all you want for not taking a more-heralded prospect or one who was more of a "sure thing" in terms of potential; I just think it's ridiculous for people to have already declared Hobgood a bust and to say that it's one of the Orioles' worst picks of all time. How can we know that?

Hobgood? Really? The fact that you have the time and space to defend a single A pitcher with 4.48 ERA who hasn't even shed his baby fat speaks volumes to the plight of the Orioles. We don't know about Wieters yet. Or Jones. Or Matusz. Tillman? Remember Riemold? Patton? This team is full of question marks, that's why they're so incredibly bad. There is not a given, other than Markakis and an injured Roberts who can't even play. Why SHOULDN'T fans question yet another question mark in this ragtag system, regardless of age or size or draft level? To say this isn't a puff piece defending a shoddy organization that has ripped its fans off for 14 years is like drafting another former Cub bust and saying we're moving in the right direction. STRIKE THREE. You're called out. Don't berate fans after over a decade of horrendous management for questioning the management's direction, especially when the evidence looks bad. I don't know if this kid is going to be good or bad, looks bad, looked like a silly pick when it happened and many baseball pros said so, but we have so many problems, who cares about single A? I'm a little preoccupied with the garbage they've signed, like Atkins and the "closer", the garbage they've traded for, Rich Hill is likely my favorite so far, and the garbage they're trying to pass off as a major league team on a daily basis. Let's worry about future garbage once this garbage is taken from the curb. It's smelly enough now. By the time Hobgood is giving up the Guthrie 3 run homer in the 1st in black and orange, maybe we'll have real ownership that is willing to bite the bullet on fast failures, cut him, and pay for a bona fide major league pitcher, not gamble the whole Yard on yet another question mark.

RESPONSE FROM STEVE GOULD: don, I'm not saying the organization doesn't have bigger problems. Obviously it does. And nowhere did I say fans shouldn't question the pick. In fact, I encouraged them to. As for your comments, if this was "STRIKE THREE," would you be so kind as to tell me what my other two strikes were? Or show me where I berated anyone? I'm all for debate, and I welcome criticism of my point, but I'd like to see some support of your argument if you're trying to make it personal.

You are correct it is not Hobgood's fault that he was selected where he was. However, it is perfectly acceptable for the fans to have greater expectations of a player selected number 5 overall. Hobgood was not top 5 material in anyone's eyes. Therefore, it is the fault of the organization for consistently picking up players due to cost and signability rather than talent and potential. It is unbelievable how much talent the orioles have bipassed over 13 years of low first round draft picks! The quality players have been there for the o's but somehow they've only managed to come up with Markakis, Weiters, and Matusz. Hopefully Machado represents a positive step in the Orioles drafting future.

I've never understood the "this guy struggled, so it's ok that this guy is struggling" argument.

Not that I think Hobgood is a bust, I just think it's ridiculous to compare him to Ubaldo and Eckersley. Is Hobgood's average fastball 96 mph? Does he have video game movement on all of his pitches? No? Then don't compare him to Ubaldo. Has he made it to the majors yet? No? Then don't compare him to a Hall of Famer.

But if you still want to do it, I can do it too:

Billy Rowell is hitting .239 with a .350 slugging percentage for Frederick. This is his fifth year in the minors and he hasn't made it past A-ball. But hey, give him a chance. He's only 21. When Albert Pujols was 21, he was in the midst of one of the best rookie seasons of all time. Oh wait, that's no good...

When Ryan Braun was 21, he was still in college. That's a good one. Oh, wait... Braun put up a 1.041 OPS in A-ball in 37 games as a 21-year-old. Crap...

Rowell plays third base, right? How about Evan Longoria. Oh, he split the year between AA and AAA and put up OPS's of .931 and .888. No good...

The fact of the matter is that there are guys who struggled early on and guys who didn't. I bet you could come up with a list of pitchers who breezed through the minors, dominating from the start, and that would "prove the point" that Hobgood is a "bust". Heck, just change Ubaldo to Tim Lincecum and Eckersley to Jim Palmer and the your argument is flipped.

PS - I'm standing by my claim that, if they were going to pass on some of the higher rated arms, the O's should have taken Grant Green last year.

The reason fans are upset with the pick not only has to do with the kids we passed on like Matzek, Leake, White (all top 100 prospects most likely, Matzek top 15), it has to do with the fact that Hobby cant get inshape! There are reports he is weighing around 320 pounds! on top of it his velocity is way way down and the best breaking ball in the draft is no where to be seen! The kid is a "PRO" and he cant even get in shape? When Jordan drafted him all we heard about was that this was not a reach and about how great the character was on this kid. In my opinion his weight problems are a direct reflection on a questionable character. He got what 3 or 4 million to sign? Hire a trainer and a damn private chef.

I actually agree with most of the premises in this article. Judging teenagers on stat lines is an exercise in folly, and expecting high school draftees to move quickly through a system is unreasonable. I remain an enthusiastic supporter of Tim Beckham, even though his stat lines at High-A aren't pretty and Buster Posey is currently in the major leagues.

However - that isn't really the argument against Hobgood. Prior to the draft, there were significant questions about his conditioning and body type. If you are going to draft a player at #5 with question marks, it seems only logical that the organization should have a specific plan in place to address those question marks. Unfortunately, it seems that Hobgood has been left to his own devices, and hasn't yet been able to correct them. The issue is one of process, not results - the team didn't have a process in place to get the maximum value out of a pick that was, by all accounts, an overdraft to begin with.

Moreover, the organization specifically noted that Hobgood should offer certainty and move quickly through the organization for a high-school pick. Both of those premises are now in question, as not only is he not experiencing success in the minors, but much more significantly, he appears to have taken a step backwards. His fastball now sits in the high 80s, but in high school, he sat 91-93, touching 95. Velocity certainly isn't everything, and there have been major leaguers who have succeeded with a fastball that didn't hit 90 MPH - but those pitchers are few and far between, and all of them offered something else that was outstanding in order to compensate for the lack of velocity. Hobgood has, to date, not displayed those skills. Whether this is a development issue or a scouting issue is unclear - but these aren't issues that are corrected solely with more experience. Whether you're 19 or 29, a dip in velocity with no other significant improvements is a concern and a sign of something not being right.

In short - the problem with Matt Hobgood has very little to do with him as a person. The organization had both poor process and poor execution when it came to this draft pick. A one-time mistake isn't disastrous for a franchise, but if these issues aren't corrected, it won't be a one-time mistake.

"The oldest of the cornerstones is 26. Jones is in his third year, Wieters his second, Reimold his second, and Pie has never played a full season or been given a chance or the long haul. Even guys like Montanez, Moore, and Hughes have had no more than cups of coffee, so we really don't know what they've got."

Seriously ken? Reimold, Pie, Montanez, Moore and Huhges? Seriously!?!??

Nolan Reimold is 26. 26! And he's still trying to get back to 100% after a major injury and surgery! And he's hitting .212/.277/.314 in AAA after a miserable stretch in the majors to start the season. He shouldn't be a part of this discussion at this point.

Felix Pie is 25. And you mentioned that he hasn't been able to prove himself over the long haul. You know why? Because he has no plate discipline. And he can't stay healthy. I've never even heard of whatever it was that Pie hurt this time, and that's not a good sign when you're talking about an injury prone player.

And Lou Montanez? Seriously? Come on, man. He's terrible. The guy is 28 years old and he's got a sub-.800 OPS in over 3700 minor league at bats. If he didn't win that MVP Award (in AA, mind you), you wouldn't even know who he is.

Same thing with Scott Moore. Another guy on the wrong side of 25 with mediocre minor league numbers. He's showing us right now that his only chance at a future in MLB is as a utility infielder. And, at this point, his chances don't look too good.

I'm getting repetitive here with Rhyne Hughes. That was fun while it lasted, but he's just another 26-year-old quad-A "prospect".

"Another thing to consider is that in the old days, which really weren't so long ago, rookies didn't make the leap until the were a bit older. If a guy was 24 or 25, that used to be considered young. That meant he spent four or five years honing his craft in the minors. Not so anymore. Possibly the greatest left hander of all time, Sandy Koufax, didn't have a good season until he was 27, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, two future HoFers, were abysmal in their first years."

First off, Koufax is the exception, not the rule. His entire career was a baseball anomaly.

Second, what "old days" are you talking about? Greg Maddux was a very good starter by the time he was 22. Tom Glavine was very good by the time he was 23. And guys like Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver spent very little time in the minors and were very successful in the majors by the time they were 21 or 22. So where's this "24 and 25-year-olds were considered young" thing coming from?

"I have confidence that MacPhail and Angelos will make moves designed to improve the team. Mac's history in Chicago says so and the owner has said he will spend the money."

Care to go over MacPhail's history in Chicago? The man himself declared his time there a failure. What was so good about it?

And Peter Angelos has been saying he'll spend money since he stopped spending money after 2004. When's it going to happen?

Steve, Hobgood projected to go around picks 20 - 25. The Orioles braintrust grabbed him with the 5th overall pick where they could have drafted Leake or Storen whom both could have provided more immediate help. This was purely a money saving move on the Orioles braintrust and a clear indication that they really are not capable of judging young talent. Jimenez was a free agent signing and was undrafted. Does Hobgood possess a 100 mile an hour fastball that we don't know about? As far as the disaster that Billy Rowell is, he will always be tied to Tim Lincencum and the only way this 21 year old kid makes it to AAA is when he buys a $5.00 ticket to the bleachers in centerfield. Andy MacPhail was supposed to be @ .500 this season and contending by 2011 according to "the plan". This team will lose between 115 - 120 games this season with zero hope for the next 5 years. Luckily us fans can simply turn them of, you on the other hand have to document this disaster.

He could very well turn into a another Kwami

We're having a perfect storm of Orioles fandom: 13 straight losing seasons coupled with a media/internet culture that rushes to permanently brand any issue when it's five minutes old. Love all these people who complain about how its not like it used to be, but at the same time show that they have no true sense of historic perspective. Hobgood has a long way to go before he reaches the status of at least three different pitching busts from the '99 draft alone - Paradis-Stahl-Cenate.

I wouldn't call Hog a bust, but this article seems to be based on a faulty premise. When you are drafted so high, expectations are also high. Ubaldo was not even drafted. Eckersly was drafted in the 3rd round. It makes sense that they wouldn't be as polished and would have to develop some raw talent. Also, I am pretty sure that its not rationale to blame McPhail for the pick, the orders come from above.

Dave/Steve - I watched Mike Cuellar for years and I don't think his fastball ever got out of the 80's & he seemed to do OK.

I have a problem with the Orioles using their high draft choices on high school players. A high school player is more risky, and if the player does develop, it will probably take four or five years. The Orioles, in their present state, need to draft more developed, less risky college players that can help in a year or two.

The idiot McPhail bashers are using Hobgood's early struggles to prove their point. It shows that they don't have a clue.

You cannot compare him to Ubaldo Jimenez. The situation is not even close. Ubaldo has electric stuff and throws in the upper 90s. He struggled in the minors because he had control issues, but the Rockies developed him and he has turned into an ace. Hobgood throws in the low 90s and has a decent curveball. He will never be an ace even if we do a good job in developing him. Hopefully we will not have top 5 picks for long, so when you do you need to pick guys with special talent. You can find plenty of guys that sit in the low 90s with a decent secondary pitch later in the rounds.

I understand why this column was necessary, but honestly what this comes down to is the fact that some people are optimists and some are pessimists. An optimist is not likely to write someone off at age 19. A pessimist will write off anyone in the O's system. Now both will pull out stats that help support their position and they will argue that they are in fact just being objective but if you read the comments you know that someo people, no matter what, are positive and others, no matter what, are negative. Trying to get one to see the other's point is virtually impossible.

Hobgood, Rowell, MacPhail (or MacFail), Crowley, Angelos -- lots of complaining and moaning but very little substanitive analysis about why this year's team is so horrible when most expected progress from last year. Brian Roberts is a catalyst for offense and is far more important to the Orioles' success than his critics allow. He's not just another injured player like Pie or Johnson. Brian Roberts produces the spark that makes the Orioles' offensive engine fire. The Birds were competitive the first few games of the season when Brian was in the lineup stealing bases. Roberts' presence makes all the difference between bad and horrible. Perhaps he even made some of MacPhail's decisions appear better than reality?

WHY do we continue to see articles/blog posts admonishing fans for being upset with this absolute disaster of a franchise?

Hey Sun Sports reporters, here's an idea: instead of chiding fans for being critical of an organization that has been the lowest performing in MLB for the past 13 years, how about turning your energy toward those responsible? Why there's a novel idea! Let's take an exhaustive look at the Orioles scouting system, how it works, why it has failed so miserably to deliver a winning product in 13 years. Or maybe you could do an in-depth review of MacPhail's tenure, going back to examine his time in Chicago and how he is regarded there, why he insists on signing Cubs retreads, why he didn't bring in a serious power hitter this offseason to protect our young hitters, why he has apparently deemed losing to not matter fro the rest of this season? How about looking into the real inner workings of MacPhail's plan - beyond the "grow the arms, buy the bats" platitudes and find out what are his measurements for success, ask him when Orioles fans should expect the team to start winning, hold him accountable for his statement of "this year is about wins and losses." Ask Angelos what he thinks about the team becoming a laughingstock and fodder for Dave Letterman's monologue.

In any other major city, this owner and GM would be getting crucified in the press. Here, you act like an extension of their press office (see last weekend's story on how attendance/viewership was up at O's games this year. they had to be laughing hysterically in the O's PR office after that one).

Do your jobs. Start asking tough questions. Hold those responsible for this ugly, perpetual, and insulting failure accountable. If you get denied comment or access to Angelos/Macphail, go around them. Talk to informers in the Warehouse. BE CREATIVE.

And stop criticizing the fans. You look ridiculous.

Love it.

Especially the experts posting how they "think" he's betters suited to the bullpen. How he just has an "decent" curveball. Yep they've extensively scouted (and have the ability to project) a guy like Hobgood after less than a year in professional baseball. Thank goodness we have these geniuses to keep us all in the know. Hilarious stuff.

Groundskeeper add to your list:

Over the last ten years, 2000 to 2009, 25 teams have raised their salary by an average of 94%. Five teams have lowered their salary, three by a small amount. Two teams have lowered their salary a lot, San Diego by 20%, and the Orioles by 19%. Next year with money coming off the books, the Oriole figure will reach a drop of 35-40%.

Much has been made of the fact the Yankees revenues are so high the Orioles can not compete. This is only half of the equation, costs are the other half. The Yankees revenues are much higher than the Orioles but their costs are far far higher. What really counts is earnings or income, which is revenues minus cost.. Totaled over the eight years from 2002 to 2008, the Orioles have the third highest earnings in all of baseball. Over this period the Orioles earnings are 300 million higher than the Yankees

The Yankees are a team desperate to win and run that way. The Orioles are run to make money, winning is secondary. MaPhail has done a superb job of lowering payroll while appearing to compete. He’s succeeded, we’re heading to number one in earnings. Peter Angelos does not need to make money on the Orioles, that’s why its such a crime he runs them this way. If Angelos is going to run the team this way we need to take away the low low tax deal we gave him.

As to why the Sun doesn't criticize Angelos, the Orioles provide something like $350,000 to the paper annually.

Steve,

Pardon me, but you are so, so, so, so, so wrong.

Hobgood can legally sip, gulp or chug as much beer as he wants pretty much anywhere in Europe.

I agree with most of your other points though.

RESPONSE FROM STEVE GOULD: Touche, Chris.

I wonder if any of the critics that have complained about the Hobgood pick have looked at the other projected picks that the O's were supposed to pick. Such as Wheeler. Well in my opinion after following every Hobgood start. Hobgood has out pitched Wheeler in every sense. In fact the Shorebirds could actually play some defense he would have faired much better than the numbers show. Really the one major weakness that I can see on paper is holding runners.

The problem people have is the O's didn't take the best player available (Tyler Matzek) who is tearing it up in Asheville. Hobgood also isn't striking out very many people and walking his fair share - his ERA isn't as bad as he has actually been. For a guy that was supposed to throw gas, this is troubling but the bigger issue is the O's need to make a committment to taking the best player available in every draft from here on out no matter the cost or signability.

Steve -

If you want to help set the record straight on Hobgood, write a detailed piece on Hobgood's development, getting into the details. I was a bit surprised when you wrote that we should "have a field day" if we want details about the kid. Shame on us for wanting reports on the #5 pick, a questionable one at that.

I've got nothing against Hobgood. My complaint is with the minor league system, the scouts, the instructors, etc. And honestly it's with The Sun for consistently failing to report on it, and rather provide commentary on the obvious effects it has created.

To the folks who are crying out for the team to spend money left and right--it's always easiest to write checks on someone else's account, isn't it?--I'd point to McPhail's former club as exhibit A: The Chicago Cubs.

Spent a boat load of money. Have for the past several years. And with what tangible results? High impact? The Mets went out and signed Johan Sanatana. They have Jose Reyes and David Wright. They have Beltran. And where have they been at the end of the last two seasons? At home. Heck, the Yankees for that matter won the series for the first time last year after spending the better part of the last decade writing huge checks year after year on whatever free agent they wanted with disappointing results.

As much as we may wish it was as easy as throwing a bunch of moeny around playing rotisserie, that's not how the game works.

McPhail has gotten a lot of young, quality talent into this club where it had been long since barren. The team needs serious power in the lineup to compliment the talent it does have. We now have the talent in the system to make deals.

Hobgood was drafted with the knowledge that he was a high ceiling guy; a guy who has the raw talent but will have to put it together. All of our guys do.

People see guys like Strausberg, get jealous, and think it's all easy. Yeah, he may work out and become a Clemens or Oswalt. He could also be Kerry Wood--a guy who threw 100, struck out 20 in his debut, and also blew his arm out a few years later and is now an okay closer. Heck, maybe Hobgood will be the same.

No one knows where these guys are going to go, so we have to wait. Yes, Storen may have worked out--thus far--but that was no certain thing. (Matt Weiters tore his way through the minors. And guess what? Opponents adjust, the game becomes a lot harder, and sur ethings no longer look quite so sure anymore.)

Neither way is a guarantee: you could spend a ton of money and wind up like the Mets and Cubs or you could invest in player development and build teams like the Twins, Rays, Marlins, A's, etc. (SD has cut their payroll significantly too, and they contend year in and out.) Neither guarantees success, but one way sure does cost a ton of money.

Justin -

You can't see the awful walk rate on paper?

By the by, here are some comparisons between Hobgood and Wheeler...

ERA
Hobgood: 4.48
Wheeler: 5.08
Advantage: Hobgood

WHIP
Hobgood: 1.45
Wheeler: 1.43
Advantage: Wheeler

K/9
Hobgood: 5.9
Wheeler: 11.3
Advantage: Wheeler

BB/9
Hobgood: 4.2
Wheeler: 5.8
Advantage: Hobgood

K/BB
Hobgood: 1.4
Wheeler: 1.9
Advantage: Wheeler

HR/9
Hobgood: 0.7
Wheeler: 0.0
Advantage: Wheeler

IP Per Start:
Hobgood: 5.3
Wheeler: 3.7
Advantage: Hobgood

They both walk too many and neither of them pitch deep enough into games, but considering Wheeler's K rate and the fact that he hasn't given up a home run, I'd say they're about even.

That's not to say that Hobgood's a bust though. It's ridiculous to even consider such a thing. But that shouldn't be the conversation here. The conversation should be based around why in the world Andy took Hobgood over several better rated players in the first place. Since you can't really judge a 19-year-old on 12 A-ball starts, I think that's what people are really upset about.

Irony: Thinking of myself, Gil, wayne and blancione from Schmuck's blog (not sure if they come around here), it's pretty funny that my verification words were "three-year" and "pout".

Do you think he was worth the #5 overall pick in the draft or do you think PA was trying to save money after signing Wieters and Matusz in the previous two years.

I feel bad for Hobgood. He didn't ask to be drafted that high but is now being held to that standard.

These fans have Strasburg-itis! They want instant results. Us older fans know better.

a big problem the orioles have had for years is their scouts don't do a good job of recognizing talent and being able to project a players talent level. and it seems our minor league coaches don't do a good job developing the talent given to them. if the orioles wanted to spend their money wisely they should recruit scouts from the marlins, twins and rays pay them good money and go after those teams minor league coaches and do the same. if you can't recognize talent and than develop that talent you're never going to win.

Hobgood's problem - and one he can't control - is that the expectations are set much higher as the #4 overall pick in the draft. It's the same problem that Tim Tebow will have in the NFL. If Tebow does not pan out, he's a bust. If he had been, say, a 3rd round pick, and does not pan out, he would not be considered a bust.

My issue with Hobgood are the reports that he has showed up overweight and out-of-shape to his teams, and there are some serious concerns on his work ethic. That to me is very distressing. The road is littered with talented baseball players who never worked hard, and wasted their talent.

On the Jimenez comparison, I think the blogger is being misleadingly selective with the stats. In 2003, at age 19, at A and high A, he had a 3.35 ERA. In 2004, at age 20, he had a 2.23 ERA at high A. Therefore, the comparisons are completely invalid. Yes, his later ERAs at AAA was high, but that's partially because of the ballpark and thin air there, as it is in nearby Denver. This sentence should be the last one to ever contain both the names Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Hobgood.

But, folks, let's face it, as the saying goes, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. Hobgood is following the same pattern we've seen from the Hales, Smiths, Stahls, Rowells, who all became busts. In fact, I can't think of an Oriole who started this poorly, and rebounded for a decent career.

He's not a bust yet, just give him a couple of years, and he definitely will be...

Steve - Thanks for interjecting some reason in the Hobgood discussion. Some people you're never going to convince because they're hot wired to continually see the glass as half empty.

Others, however, are reachable, as they're just burned out on all of the losing for so many years and would respond to a turnaround to view Oriole prospects a bit more kindly (when said turnaround is going to happen remains to be seen).

As for the O's taking him because he was perceived as an easy sign, the naysayers again only focus on what they perceive as a negative, forgetting that as a senior Hobgood was selected national high school player of the year by Gatorade abd USA Today, among other honors he garnered. And let's not forget that his hitting was factored into that as well, as he led the nation in home runs.

Does he need to replace some body fat with lean muscle? No doubt. Does he need to prove he can succeed at the next level? Surely. Is it too soon to tout him as the next Roger Clemens? Absolutely?

But likewise it is way too soon to conclude that he's a bust by comparing him to other Oriole prospects who haven't made it to the bigs. Every player is an individual who must be judged on his own merits, not those of anyone else.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.


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