He appears to project as a back-end starter or bullpen guy. I'm just curious; who might you rather hold in a deep dynasty league: Collin Balester or Tommy Hunter. Other expendable options include holds guys, such as Sean Green, Rinyel Pinto, Jerry Blevins, or Frank Francisco. Blevins is farm-club eligible, while the others are not.
Birthday: 7/3/1986 (Age 22)
Roster Status: 25- and 40-man Roster, 3 options remaining
Background: Tommy Hunter came to the Rangers just last year, signing as a supplemental first-round pick (54th overall). A draft-eligible sophomore from the University of Alabama, he was considered to be a high-round pick after just two seasons there. Hunter was a highly scouted player out of high school as well, having been drafted out of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis in the 18th round by Tampa Bay. The Rays' next pick was Arizona high school product Ike Davis, a first-round pick by the Mets this year out of Arizona State. Hunter was a two-time all-city player of the year in Indianapolis, and his team finished number five in the state with a 28-5 record his senior year. The thing that stood out about Hunter was that, despite his body mold, he was a two-time junior Olympic champion in judo. Once at Alabama, Hunter impressed the Alabama coaching staff enough to earn a rotation spot his freshman year. Over 20 games (16 starts) during his freshman year, he won 10 games and pitched 117.1 innings, Alabama single-season freshman records. That earned him a spot on the cover of the Alabama media guide for his sophomore year. Further recognition came following his successful bullpen stint with Team USA that summer, where he earned a gold medal. His sophomore season saw Hunter working double duty as a starter and occasional closer for the Tide, appearing in 26 games (11 starts) and earning a 7-5 record and 3.87 ERA. He managed to rack up 107 innings over those outings. Scouts saw him as a bullpen or back-end rotation filler as the draft began, and the Rangers ended up signing him for $585,000 following his selection.
Pitches: Scouts thought Hunter would be a two-pitch bullpen specialist entering the draft in 2007. However, he's quickly proving he has enough of a repertoire to be a starting pitcher in the Majors. Hunter's fastball is somewhat average, sitting in the low 90s most of the time. In his first start at the big league level, he sat mainly at 92, while reaching 95 in the first inning. He did lose a little velocity as the game went on, and you hope that it was due to the heat and a falloff of adrenaline as the game went on. Hunter's second primary pitch is his plus curveball, which shows excellent life while remaining close to the zone. It's of the hard curve variety, usually sitting in the low 80s with even more movement when it is at 78 or 79. His curveball is easily his best pitch for getting Major League outs. His final pitch is a developing changeup. It has a lot of cut to it, sometimes being confused for a cutter itself. It usually sits only about 5-6 mph under his fastball, but is enough to stay effective against left-handed hitters. It has potential to become an average big-league pitch, but at the moment, it is considered his weakest offering.
Professional Experience: Hunter's workload was managed closely last year following his signing. He was assigned to Spokane, and only racked up 17.2 innings in 10 relief appearances there. It was hard to get a feel for how he would be as a starter, but he was an effective reliever in the Northwest League, posting a 2.55 ERA there with a 0.91 WHIP. He also struck out 13 in those 17.2 innings. He was at instructs last year, and a slight adjustment to his motion has improved his pitches. Entering 2008, his transition to starter was expected to be his main adjustment to professional baseball.
2008 Season: Hunter's 2008 season has been better than expected. Having started the year in the rotation at Bakersfield, he only needed nine starts to reach AA Frisco. He got decisions in each of those starts, going 5-4 over 58.1 innings with a 3.55 ERA in the hitter-friendly Cal League. Double-A is supposed to be the level where talented players face their first opposition. However, Hunter needed one less start in Double-A than at High-A. In eight starts at Frisco, he posted a 4-2 record in 52.1 innings, sporting a 3.78 ERA. He continued to move fast after that, reaching Oklahoma and making five starts there. With a 2-2 record in those starts, he was promoted to Texas, and made his first big league start Friday against Toronto. While he allowed two home runs to the relatively powerless Jays, he was effective in a small strike zone over five innings. At this point, with 149 innings under his belt, it should be expected that he moves to a bullpen role as starters return from injuries. The Rangers likely don't want to burn Hunter's first option this year, so they'll manage his innings at the big league level or demote him and recall him September 1 (less than 20 days on a minor league roster means no option is used).
Future Outlook: Hunter still profiles as a back-end innings-eater for a number of years. Being only 22, the Rangers need to manage his innings so that his health does not become a problem. If managed correctly, Hunter's ceiling could be as a #3 starter in a Joe Blanton mold. If starting doesn't work out as hoped, he still has two strong pitches with which he can become a force in the bullpen. He will likely compete for a rotation spot in Texas during Spring Training next March, but don't be surprised if he's sent to Oklahoma to start the year if he doesn't shine during 2008's final months.