J.J. Hoover thought he might be taken a little higher than the 10th round of the recent Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
Turns out for Hoover, where he went in the draft is not nearly as important to him as where he might be going.
A 6-foot-3, 225-pound right hander from Elizabeth, he was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 10th round of the draft. Scouts say his four pitches -- fastball, slider, curve and changeup -- give him the potential to either start or relieve at the major league level.
Being selected by the Braves was a dream come true for Hoover, who for years has idolized Atlanta's one-time Hall of Fame-in-waiting staff of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. As a young pitcher, he was thrilled to be drafted by a team with such a stellar pitching history.
"I've been a Braves fan for a long time," Hoover said. "It's great to go to a team with that reputation. I've always been a fan of their big three -- Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine. Chipper Jones always has been one of my favorites, too. It would be great to get a chance to play with guys like that."
Hoover is a long way from becoming a teammate of that group. He was negotiating with the Braves on a contract last weekend in hopes of signing, but had a few fallback options in case a contract deal is not struck.
He has accepted a scholarship offer from West Virginia University and will enroll there in the fall and join the baseball program if he does not sign. He then would be eligible to be drafted again next summer. In the meantime, he is playing in the Cape Cod League for additional work. The Cape Cod League is renowned for sending players to the major leagues.
"If Atlanta does what it said it is going to do, I'd love to sign with them," Hoover said. "If that happened, I would pass on the opportunity to go to West Virginia. But I have to wait my turn. They have some other draft picks they're trying to sign, too, so I have to wait for them to get to me. When they do, we'll see what happens."
Atlanta scouts have told Hoover if he signs, he likely will start with a Rookie League team in Virginia or Florida. He said he has been told the team would like him to be pitching in Class A before the end of this season.
Hoover has been on the radar of major league scouts for several years, since starring at Elizabeth Forward prior to graduating in 2006. He had the chance to go to a four-year college upon graduation but chose instead Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Ala., a two-year junior college.
"I thought that if I went to a four-year school out of high school, I'd probably end up sitting the bench for a year or two," he said.
"Going [to Calhoun] gave me a chance to play right away."
He performed well. This past season, his second at the school, he struck out 176 in 101 innings and posted a 1.88 earned run average. Those numbers helped cement his reputation as a strikeout pitcher. His fastball has been clocked in the mid-90s and by several accounts, he is capable of maintaining that velocity deep into ballgames.
If he can maintain such velocity over several innings, he would be a candidate to start. If unable to do so, he could make for a standout reliever.
Hoover's father, Jim, has become his pitching mentor, learning about pitching as his son has developed.
"[My father] has learned a lot about pitching over the years," Hoover said. "He knows the game real well now. When I have a problem with my mechanics or something like that, I can call him on the phone and he usually can help me our right away. He straightens me out. He really knows pitching."
Hoover said his game is more power than finesse. He believes he has a live fastball he can get past most hitters when necessary, and has the work ethic to improve his other pitches enough to give himself the best chance to succeed
"I think my strength is that I can throw my fastball pretty much anywhere I want and I have a pretty good off-speed pitch," he said. "I need to be more consistent with my off-speed stuff. I've got to be able to throw that consistently for strikes and that's one of the things I am working on."