Right-handed pitcher Buddy Borden turned in one of the best pitching performances in the Pirates minor league system this season. In his first full season in Low-A West Virginia, the 22-year-old finished with a 3.16 ERA in 128 innings pitched, to go along with a 122/48 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The Pirates selected Borden in the 7th round of the 2013 draft out of UNLV. At 6’ 3’’ 210 pounds, he has a hard fastball with good movement, sitting in the low 90s that can touch as high as 96. He complements his fastball with a curveball and a changeup.
Borden got off to a fast start in this season, with a 1.37 ERA in his first 19.1 innings to go along with a 19/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But beginning in May, he struggled with his command, leading to inconsistent performances. Through May and June, Borden had a 4.62 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP, with a 38/24 K/BB.
On June 2nd Borden had his worst start of his year, giving up 8 hits, 4 walks and 6 runs in 5 innings pitched. On June 24th, he was only able to get through 1 inning because he reached the 35-pitch inning limit that the Pirates organization has in place in order to protect their young pitchers. He threw only 20 strikes in that outing.
After an appearance in relief, Borden got back on track starting in July, and had a dominant month of August. In August, Borden had a 2.00 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP, to go along with an impressive 33/4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The biggest difference between the first half and the second half of his season was Borden’s progression with his fastball command. His main focus this season was to improve the command of his fastball to both sides of the plate, and to get ahead in counts. West Virginia Pitching Coach Jeff Johnson pointed at Borden’s fastball as the main reason for his dominant month of August.
“[He’s learned] how to stay ahead in counts, and that the quality of the pitch is more important than the velocity of the pitch. He’s learned how to manufacture the quality of the pitch, and still keep his stuff up too,” Johnson said.
West Virginia Manager Michael Ryan loves Borden’s willingness to pound his fastball inside on hitters, making the opposing batter feel uncomfortable at the plate.
“He attacks hitters inside and makes them uncomfortable and that opens up the outside [half of the plate]. His location of his fastball is what makes him so effective. He can put it anywhere he wants and his velocity is enough to get in on guys because of his location inside.”
Borden’s good command will enable his secondary pitches to be more effective, especially his changeup. Having the ability to throw a good changeup is extremely important for the next step of his development.
“Changeup usage [is important]. Not just throwing it when you want to, but at this level you kind of learn, as opposed to college, at times you have to throw it just to show it, so we’ve worked a lot on fastball command and changeup usage,” Borden explained.
The importance of the need for development of his secondary pitches was on display for Borden in his final start of the year on August 30th against Asheville. Borden cruised through the first three innings, retiring the first nine batters he faced. He was commanding his fastball to both sides of the plate, jamming Asheville hitters and producing weak contact. But in the 4th inning Asheville began to make adjustments, and began to square up his fastball. That night Borden did not have a good feel for his secondary pitches to keep the Asheville hitters honest, and that lead to a 6 hit, 5 run 4th inning that Borden would not be able to complete.
Johnson reiterated the next day just how important his changeup development will be.
“Not that he doesn’t have one, but he hasn’t quite learned how to fit it into what he likes to do. So as he moves forward the changeup is going to become a much bigger pitch for him. It will take pressure off of fastball command, help him get some easier outs and that will be the biggest thing for him is to get his changeup in play more,” Johnson said.
One of Borden’s best qualities is his make-up. Johnson and Ryan both raved about Borden’s work ethic and how hard he competes out on the mound.
“His focus and concentration is off the charts. He’s all business. It’s all about doing the job right, it’s all about maximizing his abilities, [and he’s a] total pro in that regard. work days are thoughtful, focus. All the intangibles that you need to have to be a very good pitcher, he’s doing it,” Johnson said
Ryan echoed Johnson, stating that “you can’t even talk to Buddy” on days that Borden starts, because of how focused and intense he is.
Borden’s make-up separates him from the rest of the pack, and his work ethic should play a big role in his ability to do what it takes to continue to progress. With his improved fastball command, the progression of his secondary pitches will determine his ceiling. If Borden is able to develop his two secondary pitches into consistent legitimate offerings, he has the ability to be a middle of the rotation starter.