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.