Oakland A's MiLB FA Profile: Deryk Hooker

Over the years, the Oakland A's have had success mining the minor league free agent market for major league talent. Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at some of the players the A's signed to minor league free agent deals this off-season. In this profile, we take a look at right-hander reliever Deryk Hooker.

Name: Deryk Hooker
DOB: 06/21/1989
POS: RHP
Drafted: 7th-round of the 2007 draft (St. Louis)
H/W: 6'4'', 220
B/T: R/R


Overview

Most minor league free agents (especially those from the United States) are firmly in their late 20s before they get their first taste of the open market. Those players are usually racing the clock in terms of getting to the big leagues at an age where they could expect to forge a lengthy career. In Deryk Hooker's case, time is on his side.

The tall right-hander spent seven years in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization before signing a free agent deal with the A's this winter. Despite being a well-seasoned professional, he is still just 24 and he won't turn 25 until late June.

Hooker has been young for his development stage for much of his pro career. When his name was called in the seventh round of the 2007 draft, Hooker was still a couple weeks away from his 18th birthday. He pitched well during his pro debut in the rookie Gulf Coast League, posting a 2.32 ERA and a 47:11 K:BB in 31 innings. He put an exclamation point on his season in his final start when he struck-out 11 in just four innings. Despite those numbers, the Cardinals were relatively conservative with their young right-hander at the start of the 2008 season. They kept him back in extended spring training and he didn't make his regular season debut until midway through the season.

Hooker quickly proved that he was more than ready for the challenge of a non-complex league. He posted a 3.38 ERA and a 55:14 K:BB in 42.2 innings for the Johnson City Cardinals of the Appalachian League. During the final few weeks of the season, the Cardinals challenged Hooker with a promotion to the full-season Midwest League. In four starts, Hooker had a 1.61 ERA and an 18:6 K:BB.

That off-season, Hooker was a prospect on the rise. He was often mentioned in the same breath as fellow Cardinals' prospects Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly, although Hooker was considered a step below those two future MLB starters. There was talk that Hooker would jump to High-A at the start of the 2009 season as a 19-year-old. However, Hooker tested positive for a drug of abuse at the start of the 2009 season and was handed a 50-game suspension.

The suspension stalled Hooker's progress to some extent. Instead of spending the year in Low- or High-A, Hooker sat out the first half of the season and then was assigned to the short-season New York-Penn League. Hooker made 15 appearances (10 starts) for Batavia and he had a 3.98 ERA and a 53:23 K:BB.

The slate was wiped clean for Hooker in 2010 and he made a strong comeback after his disappointing 2009 season. He began the year with Low-A Quad Cities. In 70 innings in the Midwest League, Hooker had a 2.83 ERA and an 88:20 K:BB. Not long after his 21st birthday, he received a promotion to High-A Palm Beach, where he finished the year. In eight starts, Hooker posted a 3.27 ERA with a 39:14 K:BB in 41.1 innings. Despite the setback in 2009, Hooker was still relatively young for his levels in 2010 and his combined 127:36 K:BB and his three homeruns allowed in 111.1 innings pitched opened a lot of eyes.

Hooker made the jump to Double-A at the start of the 2011 season, but an elbow injury impacted him for much of the season. He made 11 starts for the Springfield Cardinals. He had a 4.94 ERA and a 39:18 K:BB and eight homeruns allowed in 58.1 innings. Hooker missed much of the middle portion of the season with that elbow injury, making three rehab starts in the Rookie League and in High-A during the middle part of the year.

After the injury-plagued 2011 season, Hooker again struggled with injuries in 2012. He missed the first part of the season with a fractured radial head bone in his left (non-throwing) elbow. Once he returned to live game action, Hooker moved out of the rotation and into the bullpen. He spent the entire 2012 season in the Texas League with Springfield. In 37 appearances (all relief), Hooker had a 4.31 ERA and a 43:17 K:BB. He allowed five homeruns in 48 innings.

Injuries were not an issue for Hooker in 2013. Back in Double-A again to start the 2013 season, Hooker earned a spot in the Texas League's mid-season All-Star game. He pitched well for the Cardinals for the most part, although a rough July left Hooker with an inflated ERA of 3.64 in 47 innings. He struck-out 61 and walked only 10 while allowing just four homeruns and saving eight games.

Despite his July struggles, Hooker jumped to Triple-A late in that month. He spent the final six weeks of the season with the Memphis Redbirds, getting his first extended taste of Triple-A baseball. In 20.2 innings, Hooker had a 5.23 ERA and a 14:8 K:BB.

Hooker signed with the A's in late November and then spent the last few days of November and all of December pitching for the Cardenales de Lara of the Venezuelan Winter League. He appeared in nine games. Six of his outings were of the scoreless variety, but he allowed 10 runs over a three-outing span in mid-December that left him with a 9.32 ERA for his time in the VWL.

Hooker has an invitation to big league camp with the A's and it will be his first taste of an MLB spring training camp.


Scouting Report

Hooker owns a stellar 9.3 career K/9, but he isn't a particularly hard-thrower. His fastball sits in the 89-92 MPH range and he can touch 94 on occasion when he reaches back for something extra. He spots his fastball well, however, and he isn't afraid to challenge hitters on the inner-half of the plate. He also features a sinker that has helped him limit the number of homeruns he has allowed during his career (0.6 HR/9). Hooker's best secondary pitch is his curveball, which is of the 12-6 variety. He also has a decent change-up that gets about 20 MPH separation from his fastball.

The 6'4'' right-hander has a long frame and a delivery that has a lot of moving parts. He has had trouble staying healthy during his career, although most of his injuries have not been to his throwing arm. Hooker struggled at times during his Triple-A debut last season, but if he is locating well, he has enough weapons to keep Triple-A hitters off-balance, especially one-time through a line-up.


Outlook

Hooker will be part of a talented group of right-handed relievers competing for a spot in the Sacramento bullpen this spring. If he doesn't make the River Cats' roster out of spring training, he will likely pitch in the back-end of the Midland RockHounds' bullpen and should be on the short list of pitchers to be recalled to Sacramento if injuries or promotions create openings. Hooker will have an opportunity to open some eyes during big league camp this spring. His propensity to keep the ball in the park and not walk batters will make him a good fit in the A's organization.


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