Jesse Hahn has always been able to throw a baseball, and throw it hard. If the start to his 2010 season was any indication of what's to come, he picked a great time to start pitching.
The big right-hander has long been on scouting radars because of his ability to light up radar guns. The Virginia Tech junior was clocked at 99 miles per hour, for example, last summer in the Cape Cod League. He hasn't, however, always known where it was going.
Scouts sat up and took notice, then, when Hahn came out for his first start of the 2010 season on Feb. 21 and put up seven shutout innings. Maybe more importantly, he threw just 68 pitches, 52 for strikes. Hahn, perhaps for the first time in his career, seemed in complete control on the mound.
"That was the first time I'd seen Jesse in two years pitch and not just throw," said Virginia Tech coach Pete Hughes, now in his fourth season running the Hokies baseball program. "He's so athletic, he doesn't have to be a power guy.
"The way baseball works, with all the Draft talk, [pitchers can become] slaves to the radar gun, He's done that a lot, trying to be someone he's not, trying to overthrow and hit numbers on the gun.
"He believed in his abilities and his stuff and pitched accordingly [on Feb. 21]. He kept his emotions in check and wasn't too amped up."
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That's not to say the 6-foot-5 Hahn suddenly became a soft-tosser. He was still touching 95 mph with his fastball, with some serious sink, and showed a nasty hard curve that he could bury for strikeouts. The stuff was still there; it's just that Hahn was making a concerted effort to rein it in and be a more complete product on the mound.
"I pitched more, I wasn't out there trying to light up radar guns and overthrow," Hahn said, echoing his coach. "I was able to maintain my stamina a little bit more."
It's a relatively simple formula: Throw more and better strikes, get more outs quickly, get off the mound faster, stay in the game longer. It was one that had eluded Hahn to this point and, as a result, he'd spent a lot of time pitching out of the bullpen. Hahn admits that having his kind of raw stuff without the positive results people expect to see was befuddling at times.
"It was a little frustrating at first," Hahn said. "I kept on with my work and I trusted our program. I was more prepared [for this start] and I believe I'll have more success this year because of that."
The preparation began last fall. Hahn started on a new conditioning program, a regimen that included more work in the weight room and a new arm care program that focuses on keeping muscles loose in his shoulder. Hahn said he felt a difference in how he felt when throwing within a couple of months.
But it wasn't just physical adjustments that led to Hahn starting strong out of the gate. The whole "understanding how to pitch" thing is a result of new-found sense of purpose, of growing up.
"It was great to watch, but it wasn't surprising based on his preseason and where his head's at," Hughes said. "He's focused and mature. He's worrying about getting people out and winning games for Virginia Tech.
"He's been this way all preseason, staying within his mechanics. He was focusing on executing his pitch and not pitching for a scout. I wasn't surprised at all."
One start does not a season make, obviously. Hahn did come out in his second start the next Sunday and went another seven innings and gave up two earned runs on eight hits. There are scouts who are still concerned about the command issues that plagued him in the past, who think he's destined for a relief role when all is said and done.
None of that concerns Hahn right now, and that's a big reason why he's pitching as well as he has. He can focus on helping Virginia Tech in the very competitive ACC. He probably spends more time checking out what the University of North Carolina is doing than any other school. That's not just because the Tar Heels tend to be among the best every year. UNC ace Matt Harvey went to high school with Hahn back in Connecticut.
"I'll talk to him twice every month, just to ask how he's doing and how his arm's feeling," Hahn said. "We always talked about it (becoming pros together). This summer, we had the opportunity to be teammates [in the Cape]. It'd be nice to be teammates again one day."
Hahn has learned that those kinds of things can't be controlled, that all he can do is focus on each start, on each pitch, and not get too far ahead of himself. If the start of his season is any indication, he's bought into that completely. That, in turn, should make Draft Day a good one for him.
"If he stays within that mind-set, all his goals will come true," Hughes said. "He'll pick his head up come Draft Day and be right where he wants to be."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.