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Few people could have seen it coming. Three years ago, in 2003, James Hoey was a 13th round pick out of Rider University. He finished his junior season with a 2.24 ERA, but his 63 strikeouts in 88.3 innings made it clear that Hoey had much work to do. Assigned to Rookie-level Bluefield for the remainder of the season, Hoey again posted an impressive 2.79 ERA. Yet, his 20 strikeouts and 19 walks in 42 innings once again made it clear that he would be unlikely to sustain that success unless he made further adjustments. Unfortunately, Hoey wouldn't get a chance to do so for quite some time. After just over six innings pitched in 2004, Hoey blew out his elbow ligament, necessitating Tommy John surgery and ruining his season. He recovered in time to pitch fifteen innings for short-season Aberdeen in 2005. Used exclusively in relief, Hoey posted a pedestrian 4.80 ERA but impressed by striking out a batter per inning. For the first time, the 6'6'' Hoey was intimidating hitters for a reason other than his prototypical size.
Despite pitching just 21.3 innings in the past two years, Hoey has made a rapid ascent through the organization in 2006. He began the season at Low A Delmarva and suceeded immediately. Used as the team's closer, he racked up 18 saves in 28.3 innings en route to being named a member of the South Atlantic League's Northern Division All-Star Team. With 46 strikeouts against only 10 walks and 2 homeruns allowed, the selection was well-deserved. So too was his subsequent promotion to High A Frederick, where he earned 11 saves in 14 innings of work. He held Carolina League opponents to a 0.64 ERA with 16 strikeouts and 5 walks allowed. Promoted once again to AA Bowie, Hoey again rose to the occasion. He allowed four earned runs in 9 innings of work, striking out 11 and walking 3. On August 23rd, Hoey finally got his fourth, and most significant, promotion. He made his major league debut that same night and struck out the second hitter he faced to get the Orioles out of a jam.
His statistics, across all three minor league levels:
Hoey is well-known for having an electrifying arsenal. He's been known to hit three digits with his fastball on occasion, but more commonly works in the 94-96 MPH range. His fastball has good sinking action but sometimes can get a little flat in the strike zone. Frederick Keys Pitching Coach Blaine Beatty told ITW that "[Hoey has] very good stuff... His fastball, slider and changeup are all major league quality stuff." Unfortunately, Orioles fans have seen their share of pitchers with impressive arsenals that have been rendered ineffective by command issues or poor pitch selection. Beatty feels this is unlikely to be the case with Jim Hoey. "[Hoey] has a good feel for the game. He knows what he's trying to do with hitters when he comes into the game and he knows where he's at in the lineup."
Ultimately, Hoey could work his way into the back end of Baltimore's bullpen. Were it not for the presence of another talented young reliever, Chris Ray, he might even get consideration as the team's closer in the years to come. Beatty agreed, noting "I think he's going to be a short [reliever], if not a closer." This should be welcoming news to Baltimore fans, who have seen their share of leads squandered by a thin major league bullpen this season.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com