“Don’t scout the stat line” is a phrase that has become more popular with the advent of free internet scouting reports over the past several years. Now that more people have access to the stats of everyone on their favorite team and their minor league affiliates, fans are more connected to the development process than ever before.
Naturally, this has led to some differences in opinion. A certain player may be tearing the cover off the ball in the minor leagues, but there could be several reasons why this isn’t predictive of major league performance. Maybe that player is old for his level and racking up strong numbers against inferior competition. Maybe that player knows This One Neat Trick that works against minor leaguers but won’t fly against major league competition. Whatever the reason, it’s why we continue to hold eye-witness scouting reports in such high esteem when evaluating prospects.
This brings us to Matt Hall. The 24-year-old lefty has put up some impressive numbers in the minor leagues thus far, but doesn’t have much of a ceiling to speak of at the major league level. We’re certainly hoping he proves us wrong, of course, but that 2.62 ERA in just under 300 career minor league innings doesn’t tell the full story.
Hall snuck onto the draft radar with an excellent junior season at Missouri State in 2015. He went 12-2 with a 2.02 ERA, and struck out an incredible 171 batters in just 125 innings. Opponents managed just a .196 batting average and three home runs off him all season long. The Detroit Tigers picked him up in the sixth round of the 2015 MLB draft, and he continued to keep hitters off balance in the lower minors. Hall finished out the 2015 season with a 2.90 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 31 innings at short-season Connecticut.
Tigers fans took notice of Hall quickly in 2016. He went undefeated in his 12 starts at Single-A West Michigan, compiling an 8-0 record and 1.09 ERA. His peripheral numbers were also impressive — he posted a 27 percent strikeout rate and 3.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 66 1⁄3 innings. Hall faltered a bit in High-A Lakeland in the second half of 2016, but rebounded last season to the tune of a 2.44 ERA and 25.5 percent strikeout rate. He moved up to Double-A Erie for his final six starts fo the year, where he struck out 39 batters in 35 innings.
As the title suggests, Hall’s curveball is his best pitch. It’s a plus pitch according to multiple outlets, with tight spin and solid break. Hall also commands it well, and can throw it to both right and left-handed hitters. It is a big reason why he had so much success in the lower minors. He has already refined the pitch for the most part, but could still develop a bit more consistency in its delivery and location. Even though his fastball isn’t anything special, that curveball should at least guarantee him a shot at being a left-handed specialist in the major leagues.
Speaking of the fastball, it may play up thanks to Hall’s overall profile. He barely scrapes 90 miles per hour with the heater, but can fool hitters with it if he works off his curveball. He also locates all of his pitches well — MLB Pipeline graded his command as average, and it could be better with more refinement — which helps hide the fastball a bit more. His changeup is a below-average offering, but he can also locate that pitch around the strike zone.
Hall’s biggest fault is his fastball velocity, or lack thereof. It peaks around 90 miles per hour, but generally sits in the high-80s. The pitch can play up, as MLB Pipeline notes, thanks to his above-average curveball and ability to locate, but it is still a below-average pitch. It will limit his overall ceiling, making it difficult for him to last as a starter in a major league rotation.
Hall’s profile is also limited by a below-average changeup. He is able to locate it somewhat, but the pitch doesn’t have the type of fade one would hope for from a finesse lefty like Hall. Were he able to spin a better changeup (to go along with that curveball), he might be able to get away with his high-80s fastball. However, the lackluster change probably won’t be used much if he transitions to the bullpen.
Projected team: Double-A Erie SeaWolves
Hall adjusted well to life in Double-A last year, posting a 3.06 ERA in six starts while striking out over a batter per inning. He gave up less than a hit per inning as well, and still generated a lot of pop-ups. However, he also walked 21 batters in 35 innings. Hall will benefit from further seasoning at that level this year, but could shuttle between Erie and Toledo throughout the year as others move around the organization. He might even be a potential call-up this September, as he will be Rule 5 draft eligible next offseason.