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Prospect of the Day: J.J. Hoover, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Seeking bullpen help following Bill Bray's foray onto the disabled list, the Cincinnati Reds have promoted right-hander J.J. Hoover from Triple-A Louisville. Hoover was acquired earlier this month from the Atlanta Braves and is ready to help in the majors. He is not a typical relief prospect. Let's take a look.
J.J. Hoover was a successful starting pitcher at Calhoun Community College in Alabama, earning a spot in the 10th round of the 2008 draft. He had a fairly strong commitment to a junior year at West Virginia, and the Braves needed $400,000 to sign him at the August deadline. He opened with a strong 2009 season, posting a 3.35 ERA with a sharp 148/25 K/BB ratio in 134 innings for Low-A Rome in the Sally League. The Braves were cautious with his development and didn't rush him, giving him nearly a full season in High-A in 2010, resulting in a 3.26 ERA with a 118/35 K/BB in 133 innings. Four late-season starts in Double-A were successful, although his command wobbled a bit (3-1, 3.48 ERA, 34/15 K/BB in 21 innings).
Hoover returned to Double-A Mississippi last spring and continued to pitch well, posting a 2.84 ERA in his first 67 innings, earning a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett. He got hammered there in two starts, was sent back to Double-A, then made a conversion to relief. He was simply outstanding in the bullpen, earned his way back to Triple-A and finished up with a 3.38 ERA and a 31/12 K/BB in 19 Gwinnett innings overall. The Braves didn't seem to have room for him, but he clearly didn't have a lot left to learn in the minors.
The Cincinnati Reds, meanwhile, didn't have room for Juan Francisco at the end of spring training. A trade was arranged, the Braves sending Hoover to Cincinnati in exchange for Francisco. Hoover has been blowing people away in Triple-A, with four saves and a 17/6 K/BB with a 2.00 ERA in nine innings of work. He's given up just three hits.
Hoover is a 6-3, 230-pound right-hander, born August 13, 1987. He has thick legs but is physically strong, and has been extremely durable. Hoover threw 88-92 MPH when used as a starter, but is in the 90-95 range as a reliever. Many pitchers convert to relief because they have a limited arsenal, but Hoover is more diverse than most. He has a very good slider, and mixes in workable changeups and curveballs. Although none of his pitches are truly outstanding, none of them are bad, either, and the combination is quite effective, especially when his command is on. He is aggressive and seems to enjoy bullpen work, but there was nothing wrong with his approach as a starter.
For many teams, Hoover would be a strong candidate for the number four or five spot in the starting rotation, and given his track record he may eventually receive that kind of opportunity again. As it is, he should provide effective middle relief innings and has a chance to close eventually. The main caution flag I see with Hoover is a sharp fly ball tendency, which may leave him vulnerable to homers in the majors, although his minor league home run totals have been quite low (just 23 gophers in 410 career innings).