By: Brian Frank
Thomas Hatch has been pitching in Buffalo since 2020, when he took the mound in a major-league game for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Oklahoma native appeared in six big league games in downtown Buffalo. Since 2021, he's been one of the most relied upon arms on the Bisons pitching staff, first as a starter, and more recently as a reliever.
Hatch was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft after starring at Jenks High School in Oklahoma. Rather than turning professional at that time, he made the decision to attend Oklahoma State University.
“I was pretty uncertain, mostly because nobody in my inner circle, my family, had gone through that situation before,” he said in a recent interview with The Herd Chronicles of his decision to forgo turning professional out of high school. “It was all kind of new to us. I was leaning towards college because it tended to be a little more of a safe route. I told teams not to draft me. The Rockies ended up courtesy drafting me. They knew I wasn’t going to sign. But it was nice to get called nonetheless”
“(Oklahoma State) was right up the road, an hour and a half from my home, so my family could see me. I grew up a big Oklahoma State fan. So it kind of just made sense for me.”
Hatch pitched in thirteen games, including nine starts in his freshman season for the Cowboys. The next summer, he went to pitch for the Bourne Braves in the prestigious Cape Cod Summer League. Unfortunately, his summer in Massachusetts didn’t go as planned.
“Mine wasn’t the best,” he said of his experience, “but only because I got hurt. As a freshman going to it, it probably wasn’t the experience most people have, where they’re going there to turn heads to get drafted. As a freshman, I was kind of on the backburner as far as priorities. Some of the guys that were draft eligible were kind of first in line. I enjoyed it. I mean, great weather, competitive baseball. It’s as close to professional baseball as I think you can get amateur wise. But I wish I could have experienced it the whole summer, because I ended up getting hurt.”
He only pitched in four games that summer before suffering a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Although the injury didn’t require surgery, it caused the young hurler to miss his entire sophomore season at Oklahoma State.
Hatch wearing the Bisons powder blue alternate jerseys. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
When he returned to the mound, he felt more comfortable pitching with a lower arm slot than before the injury. The lower arm slot caused him to be able to spin the ball better – and he started throwing a slider.
“I never really had a knack for spinning the ball. But since I was at a lower arm slot, it just kind of made sense and I just kind of caught on. The more I threw it obviously, the better it got.”
“Just coming off an injury, some things just feel comfortable as opposed to before the injury, and that lower arm slot allowed me to sink the ball really well. I ended up having a really good year, keeping the ball on the ground with sinkers and a pretty good slider.”
Hatch had an incredible junior season. He went 9-3 with a 2.14 ERA in 19 starts (130 1/3 IP) and was named the Big 12 Conference Pitcher of the Year. He led the Cowboys on a long run in the NCAA tournament that ended with an appearance in the College World Series. Oklahoma State defeated Nebraska and Clemson, in a regional held at Clemson – and then beat South Carolina in two straight games in the Super Regional held at the Gamecocks' home field to advance to the College World Series.
“It was kind of unexpected,” he said. “We had kind of stumbled into the tournament, but we were super excited to go to Clemson. It was a really cool environment to play in and we just caught fire at the right time. I felt like I was throwing the ball well at that point and the breaks just started falling our way. We started hitting the ball, and the hitting and pitching just kind of synched up at the right time.”
“I loved going to Columbia, South Carolina. Really competitive crowd – they get in your face. Big crowd too. SEC environment. That was exciting to go on the road and sweep them to go to the College World Series.”
Hatch pitched a five-hit shutout in Game One of the College World Series, beating Shane Bieber and the University of California, Santa Barbara. The shutout – combined with seven shutout innings against both Nebraska and South Carolina – gave Hatch a remarkable 26 consecutive scoreless innings during the tournament.
“I feel like that Game One was just a big blur. I don’t really remember much. But we got through it and ended up winning 1-0.”
The Cowboys ended up advancing to the semifinals, where they fell to Arizona.
Another life-changing moment happened for Hatch while the tournament was going on. He was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the third round of the 2016 MLB June Amateur draft.
“That was a weird day, because we were prepping to play South Carolina,” he said. “So it was kind of a lot. You’re trying to focus on winning and all of a sudden your future is at stake as well. It’s hard to figure out where to focus your attention. It was an afterthought really. It’s kind of weird to say that, but I really didn’t think about it until after our run. But it was nice. The Cubs were a great organization. I had a great time there for three and a half years.”
Hatch began the 2017 season playing for the Cubs High-A affiliate in the Carolina League, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
“I would say discipline from hitters – and also the plate shrinks,” he said of the biggest differences between college and professional baseball. “You get a little bit more of a generous strike zone in college. I had a really good catcher too who could kind of fool some umpires. But that adjustment to the zone was huge, especially when the hitters were more patient. I jumped from college ball to High-A, which is a pretty big jump. That first month was pretty rough, but I got my bearings.”
He pitched for the Double-A Tennessee in 2018 and 2019, making 47 starts for the Smokies during that span. At the major-league trade deadline in 2019, he was traded to the Blue Jays organization for reliever David Phelps. News of the trade caught him off-guard.
“I was in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and my parents were with me,” he recalled. “We were about to tour a cave, oddly enough. Right before we got on the elevator to go down into the cave I got the call that I was being traded – then I lost service for an hour going down into the cave. So it was an interesting dynamic right there. A lot of thoughts rolling through my head.”
After having a chance to digest the news, he looked at the change in organizations as a positive move.
“I think someone seeking you out is definitely flattering. It was a new opportunity, a breath of fresh air, whereas the Cubs were kind of in a window of winning at the time. There wasn’t much opportunity for guys like me. I had repeated Double-A. Then the Blue Jays were an up and coming organization. It was super exciting.”
He finished the season with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, and had a 2.80 ERA in six starts. The next spring, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shutting down the baseball season until midsummer. At the beginning of July, Hatch reported to summer camp at Rogers Centre. He ended up making the Blue Jays Opening Day roster.
Hatch on the Sahlen Field mound with the 2020 Blue Jays. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
He made his major-league debut on July 26 at Tampa’s Tropicana Field, starting the game and pitching 2 1/3 hitless innings, walking two and striking out three.
“You know, it’s interesting, he said of making his debut with no fans in the stands, "it allows you to slow the game down a little bit. There’s not as much stimuli I guess. You can kind of focus on pitching. Whereas sometimes the bigger crowds could maybe rattle you a little bit, maybe, in your debut. It was nice though. And I ended up pitching pretty well.”
He spent the rest of the season in the Blue Jays bullpen, posting a 2.73 ERA in 26 1/3 innings pitched. He also pitched in both of the Blue Jays wild card playoff games in Tampa, hurling a scoreless inning in each.
Hatch uses a four-pitch mix on the mound.
“I have two fastballs, a four-seam and a two-seam,” he explained. “The four-seam I tend to try to ride up in the zone. The two-seam I try to ride arm-side a little bit more. I use them, I’d say four-seam to two-seam at like a sixty-forty split. Then I have my change up, which is kind of my go to off-speed pitch. I also sprinkle in a slider here and there.”
“One thing I’ve noticed is the usage of my changeup kind of correlates with my success. So just not forgetting to stick with that. My slider is good as well – so picking my battles with that. And using my fastballs – splitting them, because sometimes I can tend to get heavy with one or the other. But they both play off each other and make each other better.”
Hatch uses a four-pitch mix on the mound. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
Since 2021, Hatch has primarily pitched for Buffalo, although he also pitched for the Blue Jays in 2021 and 2022. He made 14 starts for the 2021 Bisons and 22 starts for the Herd last season, before making the transition to the bullpen. All of his pitching appearances this season have been as a reliever.
“Historically being a starter, I know how to do that pretty well,” he said. “Being a reliever in 2020, it was all new, but I did it at the big league level. Then coming down here and having some experience in the bullpen definitely helps out a lot. Having that month last year doing it kind of rekindled that feel. So coming into this year, it’s been kind of seamless.”
Hatch is one of only three current Bisons – along with Trent Thornton, Nate Pearson (both with Toronto), and Paul Fry (with Baltimore) – who played in major-league games in the Queen City when the Blue Jays were based here in 2020 and 2021.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “I’ve been in Buffalo for – this is my fourth year – but one year was in the big leagues and a couple with the Bisons. It’s an interesting dynamic. Not many people have done that.”
Hatch with the Blue Jays in Buffalo in 2021. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles