Tigers pitching prospect taking pro ball by storm

May 31st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. -- The Tigers drafted out of Middle Tennessee State in the fifth round last summer -- making him their top college pitching selection -- with an eye towards him being an upside pick.

“He is an absolute sponge for knowledge,” amateur scouting director Mark Conner said at the time, “and that is a big part of the process for selecting him. We know his eagerness to learn and develop.”

Still, not even the Tigers were expecting this.

As Hamm worked through hitters Wednesday morning in his latest start for High-A West Michigan, the right-hander looked like he was playing catch. His first three pitches were fastballs on the outside corner to a left-handed hitter for a strikeout of Dodgers No. 26 prospect Noah Miller. After establishing the fastball, Hamm flipped a curveball that plummeted just as Dodgers No. 8 prospect Thayron Liranzo swung over it for another third strike. Kyle Nevin, younger brother of former Tiger Tyler Nevin, swung over another breaking ball for an 0-2 count before flying out to right.

At least Nevin made contact, as did Chris Newell on a checked-swing groundout to begin the next inning. Dylan Campbell swung and missed at a breaking ball and changeup before freezing on a fastball for another strikeout. Dodgers No. 22 prospect Jake Gelof worked out of an 0-2 hole to run the count full before fanning on a high fastball.

Hamm’s lone baserunner was a nine-pitch walk to lead off the next inning. The only opponent he couldn’t overcome was his pitch count, ending his day with three hitless innings, a walk and four strikeouts over 43 pitches, including eight swinging strikes. The Tigers shortened his outing coming off a one-inning performance last week and with a two-start week coming up.

If Wednesday’s performance was an outlier, it would be impressive regardless. But it was the latest gem in Hamm’s first full pro season. He has allowed four runs on 26 hits in 37 2/3 innings, including one run over 21 1/3 innings in his last six starts since April 30. His 0.96 ERA ranked third-best among qualified full-season Minor League pitchers entering Thursday. He has a 35 percent strikeout rate, having fanned 51 batters and walked just six.

He has taken pro ball by storm, and he’s still pushing himself to improve.

“I think the main goal for myself was to go into Spring Training and win a job to start here,” Hamm said, “and then once you get here, to build off the 12 innings you got in Low-A last year. What I pride myself on is trying not to walk guys when I get ahead in the count, and I just wanted to take that into Spring Training and then here.”

Hamm went into the Draft with a consistent mid-90s fastball, a sharp breaking knuckle-curve and a changeup, a combination that earned him first-team all-Conference USA as a junior. He also entered with a solid knowledge for pitch design and metrics. His fastball has incredible ride, so the Tigers worked with him on using it up in the zone and setting up his curveball. Then the Tigers sent him into last offseason with some homework.

“The coordinators worked me into this slider,” Hamm said. “They told me before I left for the offseason to be thinking about it, to figure out if it’s going to be a pitch for me. When they contacted me over the offseason, it was like, ‘Hey, start tinkering with this, whatever you feel is right.’”

The slider gives Hamm a pitch that moves across the plate rather than up or down in the zone. It also gives him a pitch to throw in on left-handed hitters or fade away to righties. Hamm worked on it in front of cameras so he could get the shape and movement he wanted.

Once Hamm used the slider in Spring Training to set up a right-handed hitter to freeze on a fastball in, Hamm got an idea how he could use it.

A Minor League Spring Training outing against the Blue Jays caught scouts’ attention; one evaluator called it “truly insane.”

What Hamm has done since then hasn’t tempered those opinions. If he keeps pitching like this, he could follow top prospect Jackson Jobe to Double-A Erie this summer.