O's add to arms race with prep fireballer

O's add to arms race with prep fireballer

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles added to their deep surplus of pitching prospects Tuesday, when they selected prep right-hander Matt Hobgood with the fifth overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft. Hobgood, the Gatorade National Player of the Year, had steadily risen up the draft board in recent weeks.

Baltimore had also considered prep right-hander Zack Wheeler before ultimately settling on Hobgood. Joe Jordan, Baltimore's director of scouting, said the decision went all the way down to the final day.

"I got to about 90 percent of my comfort level the middle of this afternoon. But I was still wrestling with it an hour ago," said Jordan of choosing Hobgood. "It's the right thing. I feel really good about what we did."

Jordan went on to say that he had both Wheeler and Hobgood visit Camden Yards before ultimately making his decision, and he also said that the Draft pick had nothing to do with signability. Baltimore will have until August 17 to reach terms with Hobgood, and Jordan said he expects him to sign relatively quickly.

"This was not a money saver," he said. "I knew I would be asked that because this wasn't a name guy that people kept seeing every day in the paper. We scouted this guy all year long. I saw him for the first time early in February and saw him two times after that. It had nothing to do with money. Look at what we've done lately."

Hobgood, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 245 pounds, has been compared to Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage in terms of his physicality. Jordan said that he reaches the mid 90's with his fastball and features a sharp-breaking curveball. His changeup, on the other hand, is something the Orioles will attempt to re-work.

And from the initial returns, everything else appears to be in working order. Hopgood went 11-1 with a 0.92 ERA as a senior and batted .475 with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs in 30 games. The youngster said he's more than willing to give up the bat and that he was excited to wind up with an up-and-coming team in Baltimore.

"It's been nothing but exciting. I'm still kind of in shock," Hobgood said. "This whole week's been just a dream come true, basically. I couldn't have gone to a better team. That was the team I wanted to go to and the team I was praying I would go to. They pulled the trigger and picked me and I couldn't be happier where I'm at."

From his perspective, Hobgood said that the Orioles had promised to take him if Dustin Ackley wasn't available. So when Ackley went No. 2 overall to Seattle, Hobgood knew where he would wind up. Hobgood said he doesn't know much about Baltimore's farm system but maintained that he's excited to sign and get in the fold.

"I'd like to sign and get out there," he said, "And I'd say the sooner, the better. We'll have to see how the process goes. We haven't talked money or anything. I think the signing process will go smoothly, but we'll have to see."

Opposing hitters batted just .151 off Hobgood this season, and he set school records in career pitching victories, games pitched, innings pitched, shutouts and strikeouts. Hobgood credited his maturity to the untimely passing of his father, Rick, saying that he learned to take responsibility at an earlier age than most kids.

In some respects, Hobgood continues a trend, following the recent Draft selections of Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and other highly polished pitchers. Baltimore currently has three homegrown arms -- Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez and Jason Berken -- in the rotation, with several more prized prospects in the upper levels.

Hobgood will likely be brought on at a slower pace, considering his prep status. Hobgood, who was also a highly decorated prep hitter, committed to Cal State Fullerton, but his lofty Draft status may make college an afterthought.

"Any time you draft an 18-year-old, it takes longer to get them to the big leagues," said Jordan. "We scouted college pitchers that threw 165 pitches in a game this year more than once. We're going to be able to handle this guy. We have a good pitching philosophy in our player development [system]. I trust those guys."

Baltimore has had extensive success in recent Drafts, with Matt Wieters ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball and Matusz poised near the top of most pitching lists. Brandon Snyder, the team's top selection in 2005, has gotten off to a fast start at Double-A Bowie and may be positioning himself for a September callup.

The Orioles also added Chris Tillman to the system in the Erik Bedard trade, further fleshing out the team's cadre of top arms. Matusz and Arrieta are at Bowie and may move to Triple-A Norfolk by the end of the season. And by next year, Tillman and that pair may already be challenging for big league rotation slots.

Jordan, who has mostly settled for college arms, said he didn't really like that option this year.

"It was that kind of a Draft for me," he said. "I really have a lot of confidence in Dave Smith, our pitching coordinator. Any of them can get hurt. It can happen at any time. But I just think this guy physically is ready. The delivery, the arm action, everything works good. I think we can do everything possible to keep him healthy."

Round 2, Mychal Givens, RHP, Plant HS:
Givens, a highly athletic player who was also considered as a shortstop, flashes a fastball in the high 90's.

Round 3, Tyler Townsend, 1B, Florida International University:
Townsend, a first-team All-American, batted .426 this season and set a school record with 164 career RBIs.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.