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Twins Prospect Spotlight Series: Tom Hackimer

As a way to look back at a great minor league season and look ahead toward the release of the 2018 Twins Prospect Handbook, I am writing a series of features on prospects I seem to be especially high on. Next to receive the spotlight treatment is right-handed relief pitcher Tom Hackimer.
Image courtesy of Photo by Seth Stohs, Twins Daily
Ranking prospects is a difficult task and everyone has a bit of a different methodology. This series isn’t meant to be critical of any of the other lists out there, it’s all about presenting a positive case for the featured player. We’re starting at the bottom of my list and working up from there. Here’s a look at what’s on deck:

Range 41-50 spotlight: Zander Wiel, No. 48
Range 31-40 spotlight: Tom Hackimer, No. 36
Range 21-30 spotlight: Coming Dec. 5
Range 11-20 spotlight: Coming Dec. 12
Range 1-10 spotlight: Coming Dec. 19

“Billy, this is Chad Bradford. He's a relief pitcher. He is one of the most undervalued players in baseball. His defect is that he throws funny. Nobody in the big leagues cares about him, because he looks funny. This guy could be not just the best pitcher in our bullpen, but one of the most effective relief pitchers in all of baseball.”
-Moneyball (the movie)

The days of sidearm pitchers being overlooked are probably behind us now. There have been so many good ones over the past few years: Pat Neshek, Darren O’Day, Brad Ziegler, Steve Cishek and Joe Smith, just to name a few.

Tom Hackimer is one of those guys who throws funny. Having been a fourth-round pick in 2016, however, the Twins clearly viewed him as much more than just a novelty act.

I’m sure you can already guess where this is going. Yes, I’m going to compare Hackimer to Trevor Hildenberger. It’s irresistible. Not all guys who throw sidearm are created equal, but it’s pretty striking how similar Hackimer’s 2017 season was to Hildy’s 2015.

Hackimer 2017
24.0 IP with CR, 37.1 IP with FM
1.76 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
Opponents: .142/.256/.171 (.427 OPS)
vs. LHB: .184/.291/.241 (.533 OPS)

Hildenberger 2015
45.0 IP with CR, 19.0 IP with FM
1.55 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 1.0 BB/9
Opponents: .176/.206/.194 (.400 OPS)
vs. LHB: .247/.267/.278 (.546 OPS)

The edge goes to ‘15 Hildenberger, but it’s worth noting that he spent a larger percentage of his time in Low-A and was in his age 24 season while Hackimer just turned 23 in June. The big concern with sidearm hurlers is how they’ll fare against opposite-sided hitters. As you can see, Hackimer actually allowed less damage to lefties than Hildenberger.

But the area where you notice the biggest difference between those two is definitely a cause for concern.

Whereas Hildenberger was amazing at limiting free passes in the minors, Hackimer has had a bit of trouble with his control. He seemed to have tamed his wildness during his time with the Kernels at the beginning of last season. In 24.0 innings pitched, he’d only walked three batters (3.3 BB%). After his promotion, however, Hackimer lost some of that feel and walked 19 batters in 37.1 innings with the Miracle (12.3 BB%).

An ugly performance on Aug. 13 really took its toll, as Hackimer walked four batters while failing to record an out. He entered the ninth inning of an 11-2 game and was left out on the mound for a while. Hackimer walked in three runs before manager Doug Mientkiewicz finally brought out the hook. It’s possible Doug saw it as an opportunity for Hackimer to work through some things and grow from the experience, or it could have just been that he was trying to save the rest of his pen. Either way, that performance ended up really damaging Hackimer’s overall numbers.

Full season: 1.76 ERA, 3.2 BB/9, 3.23 K:BB ratio
Minus Aug. 13: 1.03 ERA, 2.7 BB/9, 3.94 K:BB ratio

I know a lot of people don’t like to fudge with the numbers like this. That bad outing happened, and it was real ugly, but I’m willing to give a free pass. There are valid reasons why a player may have a bad game, and I’m inclined to look at that bottom line of numbers as sort of the “real” Tom Hackimer. He also hit 11 batters, however, so the concerns over his control are definitely legit.

Hackimer also got to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, where he had a 2.31 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 11.2 innings. While it was nice to see him hold his own against some stiff competition in an environment that’s typically tough on pitchers, the control concerns remained. He walked seven batters and hit three more in the AFL.

We learned in Seth’s “Get To Know” interview with Hackimer this February that he was a physics major in college. It seems there’s a good chance he’d be interested in things like spin rates or pitch tunnels and may even have a leg up on other players in terms of his ability to interpret and apply some of that information. Plus, in the grand scheme of things, he’s really still figuring things out on the mound. Hackimer walked on at St. John’s (where he had an academic scholarship) and converted to the mound from shortstop. He didn't pitch at all in high school, so 2013 was really the first time he pitched regularly. His changeup is still a work in progress, so if he can harness that pitch the concerns against lefties will really be eased.

He’s a bit of a mad scientist on the mound (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), so I wouldn’t bet against him harnessing his control. Sir Isaac Newton said “what goes up must come down” but Hackimer pitches more to the theory of “what goes down cannot come up.” He had an insane ground ball rate of 65.2 percent, which was the 10th highest among pitchers who logged at least 60 innings in affiliated ball last season. Thanks to that remarkable ability to keep the ball on the ground, Hackimer was excellent at limiting damage. He faced 246 batters and gave up only four doubles and a triple while not surrendering a single home run. Nobody seems to be able to square up the ball against Hackimer.

Trying to rank relief prospects is especially difficult. Starting pitchers are more valuable, but so many of them end up transitioning to the bullpen anyway. Plus, even six-inning starts are becoming rare and eight-men bullpens are the new normal, so relievers are becoming much more valuable.

Hackimer’s prospect stock is hurt because he’s a reliever, but the fact that he throws funny and doesn’t exactly light up the radar gun doesn't help his case, either. He’s also been a bit older than the average player for his level so far, but these are all the same things that could have been said about Hildenberger and plenty of other guys who’ve made it. The numbers have been impressive, he just needs to keep moving onwards and upwards.

For more on Tom Hackimer and about 170 other Twins minor leaguers, be sure to pick up a copy of the 2018 Twins Prospect Handbook, which will be available later this winter.

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3 Comments

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Tommygun921
Nov 29 2017 11:59 AM
Nice write up. I have wondered with the emergence of Hackimer if it could be a hindrance to him or Hildenberger pitching to the same batters either in a game or in a series. Depending on how similar their arsenal is as well as delivery. Similar to a starter facing the lineup as 3rd time thru.
    • Tom Froemming likes this

 

 

Full season: 1.76 ERA, 3.2 BB/9, 3.23 K:BB ratio
Minus Aug. 13: 1.03 ERA, 2.7 BB/9, 3.94 K:BB ratio

I know a lot of people don’t like to fudge with the numbers like this. That bad outing happened, and it was real ugly, but I’m willing to give a free pass. There are valid reasons why a player may have a bad game, and I’m inclined to look at that bottom line of numbers as sort of the “real” Tom Hackimer. He also hit 11 batters, however, so the concerns over his control are definitely legit.

 

I do.

 

These stats are stochastic. Who would you rather have? A pitcher who is consistently excellent for 50 outings minus 2 or 3 blowups and who ends up with mediocre stats, the worst of which are bunched into those 2 or 3 games? Or a pitcher who is consistently mediocre for 50 games and ends up with mediocre stats because he's mediocre?

 

I know who I'm picking.

 

Edit: Also, was the "I'm willing to give a free pass" a pun on his walks? If so it totally went over my head the first time. Well done.

    • Tom Froemming likes this
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Tom Froemming
Nov 29 2017 12:49 PM

 

Nice write up. I have wondered with the emergence of Hackimer if it could be a hindrance to him or Hildenberger pitching to the same batters either in a game or in a series. Depending on how similar their arsenal is as well as delivery. Similar to a starter facing the lineup as 3rd time thru.

Yeah, I've wondered that same thing in concern to adding Neshek as a free agent. Hackimer is a couple inches shorter than Hildy, and I'd guess he doesn't throw his changeup as often, but them being too similar would definitely still be something you'd worry about.

 

I do.

 

These stats are stochastic. Who would you rather have? A pitcher who is consistently excellent for 50 outings minus 2 or 3 blowups and who ends up with mediocre stats, the worst of which are bunched into those 2 or 3 games? Or a pitcher who is consistently mediocre for 50 games and ends up with mediocre stats because he's mediocre?

 

I know who I'm picking.

That's a good way of looking at it. FWIW, Hackimer also had that kind of thing happen in the AFL. Had one bad outing of his 10 games where gave up two runs and walked four in an inning. So he seems a tad prone to those blowups but is otherwise dominant. I suspect as he gets more comfortable on the mound we'll see fewer of those hiccups.


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