Prospect of the Day: J.J. Hoover, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and Arodys Vizcaino are the best-known RHP prospects in the Braves system, but J.J. Hoover is a good prospect too, and is blowing away Triple-A hitters.
Hoover was drafted by the Braves in the 10th round in 2008, from Calhoun Community College in Alabama. A strong-legged 6-3, 220 pound right-hander, Hoover signed late and got just five innings of work in rookie ball. However, he had a solid season for Low-A Rome in 2009, going 7-6, 3.35 ERA with a 148/25 K/BB in 134 innings. He split 2010 between High-A (11-6, 3.26, 118/35 K/BB in 133 IP) and Double-A (3.48 ERA, 34/15 K/BB in 21 IP), then returned to Double-A to begin 2011.
Hoover began the year in the rotation for Mississippi and pitched quite well. A two-start promotion in May to Triple-A was disastrous, so he went back down to Double-A and continued to perform well. In July, the Braves decided to switch him to relief, and the results have been excellent. He returned to Triple-A Gwinnett in late July and has performed extremely well in the bullpen, throwing 13.2 shutout innings since converting to relief, with a 26/6 K/BB and just four hits allowed.
Overall this year, he's pitched 105.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, with a 2.64 ERA and a 117/40 K/BB with 77 hits allowed.
Hoover has the four classic pitches: fastball, curveball, slider, changeup. His heater is a tick above average in the low 90s, but works well due to the contrast with his secondary pitches. All three of his non-fastball offerings are rated as solid major league average. Although he doesn't have a genuine plus pitch, none of them are weak, arsenal is diverse, he mixes them well, throws strikes, and has been extremely durable in his career. He's maintained his strikeout rate and K/BB ratios at each level, and he's never had a serious injury. He is a strong fly ball pitcher, but doesn't give up an excessive number of home runs.
For most teams, Hoover would profile as a solid number three or four starter, chewing up innings at a good clip with consistent performance. But the Braves see Hoover's path to the majors as clearing more quickly in the bullpen, and it is hard to argue with the results so far: he's been outstanding in that role in Triple-A. He's been named as one of Atlanta's representatives in the Arizona Fall League, one of the last stepping stones to the majors, and should compete for a relief job on the big league staff in 2012.
I have liked Hoover since he was in college, and personally I would love to see him get a chance as a starter. The Braves have other candidates ahead of him, but I believe he will perform well in any role if given enough adjustment time.