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Examining Chris Hatcher's Relief Pitching Dominance

As a prospect who toiled in the minors since 2006, the 29-year-old Chris Hatcher has quickly elevated himself as one of the best strikeout artists in baseball. Can he maintain his current level of dominance? Or will he struggle and be sent back down to the minors?

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Since arriving in the pro baseball landscape after being drafted by Miami in the 2006 MLB Draft, Chris Hatcher has always been an extremely interesting case study when it comes to the grooming of a minor-league prospect.  Before becoming one of the more lethal strikeout artists in the game, Hatcher started his career as an extremely below-average catching prospect that lingered in the farm system until his complete transition during the 2011 season.

While Hatcher has definitely made a more positive impact during his current run as relief pitcher, his promotion in late-May was still extremely surprising considering the variety of differing pitching prospects that are sitting in Miami's farm system.

"Pretty shocking," Hatcher said in an interview with the Miami Herald before his Marlins debut. "Especially having the [40-man] roster guys down there - [ Arquimedes] Caminero, [ Dan] Jennings, [ Bryan] Flynn. [ Andrew] Heaney is knocking on the door. I was just trying to help that ballclub win, and the last thing on my mind was being called up, to be quite honest with you."

Because of the combination of luck and his continued dominance with the team's Triple-A affiliate, Hatcher was able to land a spot in Miami's bullpen, which is a position that it seems like he's going to keep for the foreseeable future. Hatcher has created his own little niche as one of the more lethal strikeout artists in baseball. In Hatcher's last four outings, the 29-year-old reliever has struck out 12 of 17 batters faced, which has helped elevate his K/9 ratio to an awe-inspiring 14.25.

Unlike the vast majority of successful relievers that classify themselves by their ability to strike out the opposing batter, Hatcher isn't exactly known for a high-speed fastball. With that in mind, Hatcher does possess an extremely solid fastball that has an average velocity of 94.4 miles per hour. As mentioned in the following piece from the Sun-Sentinel, Hatcher is able to strikeout the opposition by using a slew of different pitches. While his solid fastball is Hatcher's most used pitch, the reliever is also able to effectively use sliders and splitters to improve his overall dominance on the mound.

Even though Hatcher's approach may seem to be obvious, his overall goal is to mix up his pitches and focus on working his pitches into the strike zone. That basic technique has helped push Hatcher to be one of the league's best strikeout artists since his debut, while being able to keep his BB/9 ratio to an extremely  miniscule 1.50.

Despite the fact that Hatcher has currently solidified his spot in Miami's bullpen because of his ability to be an extremely effective strikeout weapon, we're still talking about an extremely small sample size. Even though he's made a pretty big impact, Hatcher has only been around the big-league club since late May. While he has definitely showcased the necessary skills to be extremely successful, Hatcher still needs to be able that effective and reliable option for the remaining months of the 2014 season.

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