Steven Brault Finding Success in Double-A

It was ironic that Steven Brault was named the Pitcher of the Week for the Eastern League just a few days before the Baltimore Orioles DFA’d Travis Snider. No matter what happens, the two, as well as Stephen Tarpley, will always be synonymous with each other as long as Brault and Tarpley are in the Pirates’ system. The Pirates came out on top in that off-season trade, as Brault and Tarpley have continued to exceed expectations set for them entering the Pirates organization.

Right now, I want to focus on Brault, as I’ve seen him pitch often over the past two months in Altoona.

Brault was ranked as the 18th best prospect in the Orioles system last year by Baseball America. He was an 11th round draft pick in the 2013 draft by the Orioles out of Regis University in Denver Colorado. Baseball America described him as a “command-and-control” lefty who throws a fastball in the upper-80s or low-90s, changeup, and slider.

Brault has certainly lived up to the “command-and-control” description during his time in the Pirates’ organization this season.

In Brault’s last five starts, he has a 1.20 ERA in 30 innings. He has struck out 32 while only walking eight, and he has a strike efficiency of 69%. Brault has started ten games total for the Altoona Curve since his promotion from Bradenton, and he has quickly ascended to the top of the rotation.

Brault has made two bad starts for the Curve – one being his first start after being promoted that I write off because of nerves and adjustment, and the other on July 12th where he gave up six runs in 1.2 innings. In the latter start, he was still throwing strikes, but the long ball and two doubles wrote his line that day. Looking at his stats, you will see one other start where he allowed ten hits in 5.2 innings, but he was actually very good in that start, with ground ball after ground ball finding holes and infield singles plaguing him.

Other than those three outings, Brault didn’t allow a run on four separate occasions, allowed one run twice, and allowed two runs once.

Brault’s strong first half in Bradenton promptly elevated him to #22 on our Mid Season Top Prospect List, and if he continues to dominate at the Double-A level, he could find himself even higher this off-season.

So what exactly has happened with Brault that he has found so much success? Brault says that his changeup has been his most effective pitch since arriving in Altoona.

“Since I’ve gotten here,” Brault said, “it’s the pitch I’ve worked on and developed the most.”

He throws that changeup around 80 MPH and works it off of his fastball, which comes in at 88-92 MPH. The slider will come in close to the same speed as the changeup, usually sitting around 82-83 MPH. The key to success to Brault has always been command, and he has been able to utilize the Pirates’ philosophy of pitching down and inside after joining the system. He consistently commands that fastball down in the zone, throwing inside to hitters on both sides of the plate. Out of all of the pitchers I’ve seen throw in Altoona this year, Brault has shown the most consistency in being able to hit the corners and locate well. As a guy who doesn’t ramp it up too hard, he needs to be able to do that to succeed.

“I don’t throw very hard,” Brault said, “but when I am able to locate well inside, it works.”

Not only has Brault been able to find success locating his pitches, he has also seen a spike in strikeouts while getting results. In his time in Altoona this season, he is striking out guys at a 9.71 K/9 rate and only walking 2.14 per 9 innings. He averaged 7.6 K/9 last season in A-ball.

“As a staff, we try to find what’s been working and developing, then find what hasn’t been working and really focus on that.” Brault said. “For me, it was coming up here and working on making sure my off-speed pitches were the same arm speed as my fastball.”

It has not only been repeating his delivery in arm speed, Brault was finding himself drifting forward towards the plate while he was in his delivery. After the 6 R/1.2 IP outing against Bowie, Brault studied film with pitching coach Justin Meccage and saw that he was flying forward towards the plate where he should’ve been staying back on the rubber.

“Simply, the idea is staying back on the rubber,” Brault said. “That’s what we call it – not drifting forward. Since I started focusing on that and keeping it in my mind, it’s helped a lot.”

He told me that he has needed to frequently remind himself on the mound to stay back on the rubber during his last few outings, and he has seen the results. With the slight change in his delivery, strikeout numbers have gone up while walk numbers have remained consistent.

As Tim Williams noted in the First Pitch last week, Brault can end up as a back of the rotation starter in the majors if he is able to continue to command his pitches well with a lot of movement. The increased strikeout numbers are certainly welcomed in that thinking. He should find himself in Triple-A Indianapolis at the beginning of next season and could be considered rotation depth in the majors if he performs well.

  • I was wondering since both Cervelli and Stewart can both play out their option after next year. Would it be possible that the Pirates might make a similar trade with Stewart and having Tony Sanchez back up Cervelli while Diaz gets some extra time in the minors. This builds up the farm system and keeps them from maybe losing both Cervelli and Stewart.

  • piraterican21
    August 11, 2015 4:12 pm

    We have the right to brag a bit about this trade, but let’s not forget what we gave up to get Scahill and Serpico! Shane Carle and Borden are having great year for the Tampa and denver

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 11, 2015 2:54 pm

    For those who saw enough of these guys to be able to assess them, how would your compare Brault to other LH pitchers we had previously – like Rudy Owens, Zach Duke, and Sean Burnett?

    • Remember when Rudy Owens was our best pitching prospect… Yeah, those were the days.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD
        August 11, 2015 4:23 pm

        Yep, he was right there – I guess with guys like Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, and Jeff Locke.

    • All four of those guys are pretty different pitchers, from what I remember…

      Burnett never had particularly good control and his changeup sucked. Good luck being a LH starter without a change. Duke just didn’t have any secondary pitch to miss bats. Owens was probably best of the bunch and fairly similar to Locke, but with lesser secondaries. Makes sense, considering Locke isn’t a big league pitcher without even a few less strikeouts.

      Brault benefits from the groundball philosophy those other guys mostly missed out on while possessing better command needed to make it stick. *If* he can miss bats like Locke without the free passes while keeping the ball in the park, there’s a Major League starter in there.

  • Great write-up, Sean.

    I’ve had a prospect crush on Brault since seeing him earlier this year. Might be my favorite “sleeper” among all the pitchers. Seems to be one of those guys with deception built into his delivery with sort of a Kershaw-lite pause at the top plus a bit of crossfire action from a low 3/4 arm slot. Hitters never looked like they were able to jump on the fastball despite it’s velocity.

    • Thanks for the link. It’s something to see hitters chasing as badly as they were in that video, that will be harder to do in the show.

      • You got that right. But it seems these command/control types with better changeups than breaking balls fit the “underrated” prospect mold, so I am trying to break myself of the skepticism.

    • NMR The guy has a great ERA this year. You have seen him in person, is the breaking ball and change good enough to predict future success at higher levels? “Command and Control” label at the AA level makes you wonder if he can keep that label in the majors. Will he be able to make it through a major league batting order three times? Locke once again would not do that last night, and Hurdle is to blame for watching him self-destruct with a fully rested set of arms in the pen.

      • Sorry, michael. I should’ve clarified that I saw him on television. Leo has seen him plenty, though, I’m sure of that. Hopefully he’s still paying attention to this thread and can answer your question.

        I won’t ever try and make you believe I know definitively if a kid’s pitch will play unless it’s a Glasnow curveball or something ridiculous, but what I did really like about Brault was that every pitch looked exactly the same out of the hand. They call that “tunneling” these days, apparently. Each pitch looks like it’s coming down the same “tunnel” until breaking closer to the plate, making recognition difficult. This is my favorite example:

        As for the Locke reference, I *think* what will separate Brault is what happened in that 5th inning. Locke has better stuff, but Brault isn’t the type who will be likely to walk the tying runs on base before getting a single freaking out. Sheesh.

        • Thanks for the reply. The “third time through the order” issue is sticking with me. I saw Happ debut and I thought he was consistent but opponents got very comfortable in the box. In later interview Happ said the Bucs wanted him to go fastball, slider only and forget about his other two pitches for now. That clearly did not work as batters got their second and third look and it was obvious at the park.

  • Sounds like a nice fit for PNC.

  • Brault sounds like locke or what locke should be.

    • Locke is a perfectly good 5th starter. Sure, he gets knocked around occasionally, but we can’t have a staff is aces.

      • Uhh,yeah ok little crazy person, I ‘m gonna go stand over here.

        • Statistically, Locke is rather normal for a 5th pitcher. But people will forever hate that player, even though he does have value and thus guys with 4 ERA always finding jobs.

          Locke isnt a rare thing in MLB.

        • He’s right. Locke is a perfectly acceptable back-end starter.

          I’d even argue that if he learned to trust his pitches more, he could end up a mid-rotation starter. Sometimes he just tries too hard to hit the corners and starts walking batters, and that begins a meltdown.

          Right now he sits with a FiP under 4.00 and he’s been better than that since the All Star break. What is it you’re expecting exactly?

        • Still more of these bizarre posts….What should a 5th starter look like? Can’t wait to hear this…

          • Locke would be an acceptable 5th starter if he had any kind of consistency. As for the bizarre post part, you can kiss my hairy hiney. Being right is not bizarre, your being wrong all the time is.

            • A 5th SP who is consistent is called a 3rd SP. Unless the consistency you want is worse than Locke when he is good. If a 5th SP is consistent, he isnt often going to give you good Jeff Locke. If its a Locke type, its inconsistent with better upside on the good days.

            • Calling someone a “little crazy person” Then what you posted to me confirmed you’re bizarre and have issues. When have I been wrong? Also it’s “You’re being wrong all the time.” The is at the end is a prepositional phrase and your should be You’re or You are. That lesson is free.

    • Let’s hope he is a middle of the rotation starter. Why not wish big!

    • As long as he continues his control…without the Locke-yips (walks).

    • Locke throws a little harder

  • I liked Snider and thought the Pirates crazy when making this trade but Polanco looks like he going to keep on improving and this trade brought back two promising left handers. I know everyone thinks speed kills but the truth seems to be if you have excellent command you can do just fine as a pitcher. Montana Derapu (sorry to misspell it) has proven that as well.