O's sign top '09 Draft pick Hobgood

O's sign top '09 Draft pick Hobgood

BALTIMORE -- Matt Hobgood's professional journey is ready to begin. The Orioles signed Hobgood, their first-round selection in this year's First-Year Player Draft and the Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year, to a Minor League contract with a signing bonus worth $2.42 million on Saturday, officially ending the right-hander's amateur career.

Hobgood, 18, is expected to take some time off and slowly ramp back up to pitching for Bluefield, the team's affiliate in the rookie level Appalachian League, but first the Orioles introduced him to the media. Hobgood signed his contract and tried on his jersey with his family looking on on Saturday at Oriole Park, beginning a brand new chapter in his life.

"I can't tell you how good it feels to have this guy up here with me," said Joe Jordan, Baltimore's director of scouting. "He's a guy that I wanted, and we had a lot of support on the staff. We had a real rugged seven or eight days, trying to get this figured out -- not only what we were going to do in the first round but after that.

"He came out at the end clearly as the guy our staff wanted to take. That's the only thing that I, as a scouting director, can ask for. Sometimes the picture's not that clear, and sometimes it gets a little muddy. But I felt good, and when I finally got to that point, it was like the weight of the world was off my shoulders."

Hobgood, selected fifth overall, represented the second straight year that the Orioles have chosen a pitcher high in the first round. Baltimore selected Brian Matusz -- a polished college type -- fourth overall in 2008, and though Hobgood may take longer to develop, he still has a big upside.

He clearly proved that at Norco High School in California during his senior year, in which he went 9-0 with an 0.38 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 55 innings. Hobgood also starred at the plate, batting .475 with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs in 30 games. And perhaps most importantly, he impressed Jordan with his maturity.

Orioles -- Top five selections
Pick
POS
Name
School
5RHPMatthew HobgoodNorco HS
54SSMychal GivensH B Plant HS
851BTyler TownsendFlorida International U
116RHPRandy HenrySouth Mountain CC
146LHPAshur TolliverOklahoma City U
Complete Orioles Draft results >

"When you get that late in the process, you look at separators," said Jordan. "Matt's ability to look you in the eye, to talk to you like he's a man -- it didn't ever feel like he was intimidated. He was comfortable, and again, you just pick up on things. Those kinds of things are going to serve you well. I don't think you can overstate it."

True to form, Hobgood said he's proud of weighing in heavily on the scale of intangibles. The youngster, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 245 pounds, said his work ethic is part of why he was drafted so high.

"People told me that I needed to lose weight after my junior year, and I was kind of pudgy," he said of his developing Draft stock, which peaked at the right time. "I took that to heart and went into the weight room for November and December [when] I wasn't throwing at all. I ran and lifted weights and did what I needed to do, and I came back and it made me a better player. I guess you can say it made me jump in the Draft. I was a little surprised that I went that high, but not surprised that I went where I went, because I know I worked that hard."

And it showed. Opposing hitters batted just .151 off Hobgood this season, and he set school records in career pitching victories, games pitched, innings pitched, shutouts and strikeouts.

Hobgood said that he felt really comfortable with the Orioles both before the Draft and over the last two weeks, and he said that his mental approach to the game helps accentuate his physical gifts. Still, because of his age, Hobgood's contract had to also be signed by his mother before it became official.

"I might not show it, but I've been through a lot in my life, and it made me the person and the player I am today," said Hobgood. "I think if you'll ask any big player, they'll say that baseball's more mental than it is physical. Lots of players around the country are in this Draft, and everybody has great tools. There's plenty of people who can hit triple digits or throw really hard and can't locate it or don't have the mental side of it. [You have] to give up a home run and come back that much harder, work hard when nobody's looking. I think I have the little things it takes."

Both Hobgood and Jordan know it will take a long time for him to develop as a professional, but they had an unerring ease around each other that made them sure they'd made the right decision. Hobgood called Jordan one of "the best in the business" at one point, and Jordan made sure to return the compliment.

"We go through the spring and we scout these guys," said Jordan, explaining the process. "It's a lot of plane rides, a lot of hotels, a lot of time on the road. They all get lumped together in some way and you try to separate things out. I've said that many times, but I can't tell you how shocked I was when he smiled at me the first time and he had braces. I forgot he was 18 years old. It's amazing how you can get so focused on what you're doing."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.