Texas Rangers' Rookie Tommy Hunter Strengthens Rotation

Matthew IrbySenior Analyst IJuly 22, 2009

Many fans went into last nights second game of a three game series hosting the Boston Red Sox worried that this would be the game Texas would likely drop.

Can't blame you too much, we won a well played game on Monday, All-Star and World Series pitcher Josh Beckett was taking the mound for Boston, and Texas sent a rookie making his eighth career start.

However most of these people are waking up this morning asking, who is this Tommy Hunter?

Raymond Thomas Hunter was born on July 3, 1986 in Indianapolis, IN. In high school, he played baseball and football, but I bet you didn't know that he is a two-time Olympic judo champion. 

Also won a gold medal at the World Championships as a member of Team USA baseball, he went 3-0 with a 3.80 ERA, striking out 23 over 21.1 innings pitched.

Tommy was originally drafted out of high school in 2005 by the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays in the 18th round, but went on to college at the University of Alabama.

In 2007 the Texas Rangers had two first round picks and three compensation picks between the first and second rounds. Texas drafted Blake Beaven, Michael Main, Julio Borbon, Neil Ramirez and then selected 21-year-old, 6'3" 255-lbs Tommy Hunter.

Much has been made of the top three players selected in the draft, but many experts and fans have overlooked the career of Hunter.

With just over a year of professional experience Hunter made his Major League debut last season on Aug. 1. He made three starts last year and was nowhere near as successful as he hoped it would go. 

Hunter went 0-2 with a 16.36 ERA, pitching only 11 innings in the three starts. He allowed 20 earned runs on 23 hits, four of them leaving the yard, on the flip side he only walked three batters and struck out nine.

Hunter spent a lot of time with the Major League squad during Spring Training but started the year off in the minors. After flying through the minor league system, the Rangers' organization wanted to give him more time to work on his stuff and make adjustments.

On May 29, Hunter made his debut this season with the Rangers against the Oakland A's.  He went 5.1 innings and got a no decision, allowing three runs on seven hits, walking three and only striking out one batter. It was a spot start and Hunter would return to the minors afterwards and not return again until June 28.

On the 28th, he got the start against the Padres, this time he would go 6.1 innings, allowing two runs on seven hits, but would take the loss as the Ranger bats struggled to find a rhythm. This time Hunter improved his command throwing 61 of his 94 pitches for strikes, striking out three and walking none.

Since that start, Hunter has earned himself a regular spot in the rotation, making three more starts so far in the month of July.

On July 3, he made the start against the team that originally drafted him, Tampa Bay, and did so on his 23rd birthday. In the start Hunter got his first career Major League win going 5.1 innings, allowing only one run on three hits, three walks, and struck out five.

July 9, he made the start in Seattle, pitched six full innings of shutout baseball. He allowed four hits, walked three, struck out four, but again took a no decision due to a lack of offense.

Last night, July 21, Hunter made his first start of the second half of the season and fifth of the season. He pitched six complete innings, allowing one run on four hits and one walk. 

Two early runs off a Hank Blalock single was enough run support to give Hunter his second win of the season.

In his five starts this season Hunter is 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA, he has pitched 29 innings, given up only seven runs on 25 hits. He has struck out 15 batters but walked 10.  Three of his five starts can also be classified as quality starts.

Since becoming a regular part of the rotation on June 28, Hunter has pitched 23.2 innings and given up only four runs, that's an ERA of 1.52.

Now I'm not saying that he will continue this pace the rest of the season, once teams have a good, solid scouting report on Tommy he will need to adjust his gameplan. There will likely be some growing pains during this time, but so far I like what I have seen from Hunter.

Most of the pitching prospect talk has always been about Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz. After that people will tell you about Michael Main, Omar Poveda, Blake Beaven, and Kasey Kiker, however Hunter is the one surfacing with solid Major League numbers.

At a time when the Rangers still trail the surging Angels by three games, the trade deadline quickly approaching, the Roy Halladay talks losing almost all its steam, and Holland continue to struggle to find his grove, the Rangers need someone to step-up.

Hunter could be that guy. 

Kevin Millwood and Scott Feldman have both been the most stable pieces of the rotation all season long, Vicente Padilla has been very up-and-down, Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy still recovering from injuries, Hunter could be that next piece to the puzzle for the Rangers to make a push for October.

Not to mention that if he continues what he is doing, forget Elvis Andrus for Rookie of the Year, the Hunter campaign could quickly gain some steam.

I'm not the first writer to talk about this, read Bo Reed's Tommy Hunter Poised to Establish Himself, and I won't be the last to talk about the success of Hunter. That, along with his pitching performances, should tell you about what he can do for the rotation this season and in the near future for the Rangers.