In baseball, talented pitching is a hot commodity. Teams use draft picks and spend millions of dollars in hopes of finding the next great hurler. It isn’t an easy task, and many times teams are unsuccessful. But, when they find that ace, it can change a franchise forever.
This year’s Major League Baseball Draft class is deep on the mound, with numerous college and prep pitchers expected to come off the board early. One player already generating a loud buzz is high school left-hander Justin Hooper.
Hooper comes from an athletic background, as his dad is a former football player at San Diego State, while his brother is currently a tight end at Stanford.
“They have helped me to just push myself to be the best that I can anytime I stop foot on any kind of field,” Hooper said.
Hooper played football and baseball through his sophomore year, when he said that he decided to focus solely on baseball in order to fully commit himself to the game he loves.
His decision paid off as he has developed into arguably the top high school pitcher in the 2015 recruiting class.
It took some time for him to sign a National Letter of Intent, as he was deciding between the University of San Diego, Stanford and UCLA. In the end though, he decided to accept UCLA’s offer and become a Bruin.
“UCLA was the best fit for me,” Hooper said. “I felt Coach Savage could get me mentally and physically prepared for professional baseball.”
While UCLA will be an excellent opportunity for Hooper to continue to develop as a baseball player, it won’t be his only option. Hooper is regarded as one of the top players in this year’s draft class, and MLB.com currently ranks the lefty as the 11th best prospect available.
Standing at 6 feet 7 inches and weighing 230 pounds, Hooper is an imposing figure on the mound. He has a four-pitch mix featuring his low to mid 90s fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball and changeup.
His fastball tops out at 97 mph, but Hooper said that he expects his fastball to be in the low to mid 90s on a regular basis during his senior season.
His two-seam fastball, which has some sink to it, hits 88-90 mph consistently.
He throws from a three-quarters arm slot, which creates added deception and extra life on his pitches. However, due to his max effort delivery, it sometimes causes Hooper to struggle with his command and consistency.
This offseason, he focused on improving his command in hopes of improving before his senior season.
“During the offseason I just worked on slowing down my delivery,” Hooper said. “Getting my fingers on top of the baseball. Having it come out with more action.”
Last season Hooper went 6-3 with a 2.04 earned run average, 58 strikeouts, 35 walks and held opponents to a .128 batting average in 44.2 innings pitched.
Hooper has an incredible amount of potential, but he will need to show signs of improvement on his command in order for teams to feel comfortable drafting him early in the first round.
If he is able to show signs of improvement in his game, there is no question that he has the potential to be a top five selection in the draft because he has traits that could make him a future top of the rotation pitcher one day.
However, despite all the chatter surrounding him and the draft, Hooper isn’t worried about it. In fact he doesn’t even want to talk about it.
Instead, he just wants to be a normal high school senior and focus all of his attention on helping his team have a tremendous season. He only has one goal this season and it is pretty simple.
“My goal is to win and to hopefully become state champions – that would be awesome,” Hooper said.