Name: Justin Hooper
Height/Weight: 6’7’’, 235
The majority of the draft capsules I have written this season have been on college players, as their season began two months ago. I realized I have not written up a single prep arm yet.
If you’re picking after the first 12 or so picks, I often feel like if you going to take a high school arm you should swing for the fences. The chances of success are often lower so try and find a future ace type.
Justin Hooper is the number two prep arm on my board right now because of that kind of upside. He is a 6’7” prep arm from De La Salle High School in Concord, California. I am sure a few of you are wondering why that name is familiar. It’s one of the biggest name schools in California in terms of high school football. They have produced a few pro baseball players, but it lags behind football, soccer and basketball in terms of future pro numbers and success. The biggest-named baseball alum for De La Salle has been catcher John Baker, who has mostly been a backup for his big league career. Needless to say, those of you who follow college football signing day heavily probably already know a lot about De La Salle.
Hooper packs on 235 pounds onto his 6’7” frame, so he is not a rail-thin kid who needs time to grow. A lot of high school arms need time to fill out, but Hooper does not. He could still get stronger but his bulk does make me less concerned about early arm injuries. His best pitch is a fastball, which hit 97 over the summer and typically sits in the low 90’s. He projects to add some velocity to it and it looks like a potential plus pitch. His secondary offerings also showed improvement and he should have above-average change and curve. He has as high a ceiling as any arm in this class. He could be a future ace for a lot of years.
There is one issue for Hooper that stands out besides the typical ones that we see with every young arm, such as secondary pitch development. The biggest issue for Hooper is his mechanics, which is often a concern for any larger pitcher. I have talked to a few people who are concerned he will end up in the bullpen, but I think it’s a bit premature to just say he is a reliever. His delivery has too many moving parts and it causes issues with his control and command.
Hooper is far from the first high school arm with a delivery that was too loud and needed to be fixed. The difference between high school and pro coaching is big and the amount of time those coaches can spend with a player is just as big a deal. Most pitchers are able to be coached up and fixed. Even Tyler Matzek, who struggled with the changes his pro coaches had him make when he was drafted by the Colorado Rockies, was eventually able to find a delivery that suited him and make it to the majors.
I don’t want to minimize the risk though. High school pitchers are the riskiest players in the draft and a pitcher whose two biggest issues are mechanics and command is not something to be taken lightly. There is a legitimiate chance Hooper could end up never making it past Double-A. On the flip side, he will be one of the top-10, and possibly top-five, left-handed pitching prospects in baseball the moment he is drafted. He has legit front of the rotation potential.
The comparison for Hooper is fairly obvious. I think by now everyone who is reading this has thought that he sounds a lot like C.C. Sabathia. Both are 6’7” lefties who brought major heat out of Northern California high schools. Sabathia also had command issues, averaging more than four walks per nine innings for his entire minor league career. In the majors, he cut that down to less than three and by his prime he was around two. This is far and away the most clear ceiling comparison of any player I have written about so far. Sabathia was the 20th overall pick and I don’t think Hooper will last that long, especially when John Hart is picking for the Braves at 14 and sees what could be a carbon copy of the greatest pick of his long career as a GM.