Last spring, the Royals were deciding whether former #1 draft draft choice Luke Hochevar was ready to be a part of the Royals rotation or needed more time in the minor leagues. A year later, Hochevar's future with the Royals is not much clearer. Hochevar is more of an enigma than Major League pitcher. 2009 is a make or break year for Hochevar and the Royals need to give him every opportunity to establish himself.
The first time I saw Luke Hochevar pitch was in a AAA game in 2007. The Omaha Royals were playing the Salt Lake Bees and Hochevar did not demonstrate any of the talent or skill that a Major League pitcher should possess. In a previous blog entry I described Hochevar's performance this way:
Even though he [Hochevar] was the winning pitcher I was unimpressed. His box score line was okay, 6 IP, 2 earned runs, 8 hits, 4 strikeouts and 2 walks. Even though his numbers were average, Hochevar was very lucky. The Bees hit line drive after line drive that were either hit directly at an infielder or ran down in the outfield. Salt Lake stole four bases and all of them were the result of Hochevar doing a lousy job holding the runners. The 4th inning of the game raised a big red flag to me. With two outs the runner on second base steals third, arriving at the bag before Hochevar's pitch was in the catcher's mitt. The Omaha pitching coach visits the mound in what I assume was an effort to get Hochevar to do a better job of holding runners. On the next pitch, Hochevar drills the Salt Lake hitter in the middle of the back. I viewed this as immature and bush league. Perhaps Hochevar has grown up since last July , but the Royals need to be completely sure before entrusting him with a Major League job.
Hochevar made 22 starts for the Royals in 2008 and over all he looked nothing like a #1 draft choice. Most knowledgeable baseball fans know that ERA is usually not a true measure of a pitcher's ability and performance. But Hochevar's 5.51 ERA, along with a 1.54 K/BB ratio, paint an accurate picture of how mediocre he was. Most disappointing is Hochevar displayed little to give Royals fans hope that he will be able to improve and be a productive member of the rotation. Unless there is a drastic change, the Hochevar I saw pitch in Salt Lake in 2007 will be a true picture of him as a Major Leaguer.
The Royals have no choice but to put Hochevar in the rotation and hope he can establish himself as a Major League pitcher. If Hochevar does develop into a serviceable Major League pitcher the Royals will have another piece in their effort to build a contending team. If Hochevar continues to struggle, the Royals are going to have to bite the bullet and add Hochevar's name to the list of #1 draft choice busts.