Is Brandon Waddell Following the Steven Brault Path?

BRADENTON – It wasn’t long ago that it seemed like the Pirates didn’t have any left-handed pitching prospects in their system. Then, they traded for Steven Brault and Stephen Tarpley before the 2015 season and watched them each break out, to the point where I don’t think Travis Snider would be enough to land one of them alone.

Brault had a big year in 2015, pitching well in Bradenton, then stepping it up in Altoona. He went on to make the Indianapolis rotation this year, and is one of those prospects in the mix for a future rotation spot or depth for the big league club, eventually being a starter in the majors. Tarpley was expected to have a big year this year in Bradenton, and that could still happen. However, he’s been delayed with an oblique injury, and will return this week. In his absence, another left-handed pitching prospect has excelled in the Bradenton rotation, this one looking somewhat similar to Steven Brault.

Brandon Waddell had another great outing on Friday night, pitching six shutout innings with two hits, no walks, and seven strikeouts. On the season, he has an 0.93 ERA in 29 innings, with a 26:2 K/BB ratio. He’s allowed a walk or a hit in almost half of his innings so far, and looks like he belongs a level higher with how advanced he is. That could lead to a mid-season promotion for Waddell to Altoona, just like Brault received last year. In both cases, the promotions would be because their pitching styles are too advanced for A-ball.

“Brault is a little bit more deceptive, I would say,” Bradenton Manager Michael Ryan said. “It’s different deliveries. Different stuff. But they pitch the same. I can see the comparisons, but they’re both different guys. Waddell can throw a little harder, I believe. He pitches inside a little bit more. Anything we look for in a pitcher, he’s got.”

The Pirates gave Waddell an aggressive push to Bradenton this year in his first full pro season, a year after being drafted in the fifth round. They usually make that move with one mid-round starting pitcher out of college each year, picking guys like Justin Wilson, Chad Kuhl, Adrian Sampson, and Tyler Eppler in the past. His style of pitching really helped here, with five pitches that he can throw for strikes, the ability to mix speeds, and good movement on his pitches. But the Pirates also liked Waddell’s history of pitching important games, which fueled the decision to promote him.

“He pitched in big games in college,” Ryan said. “He won the College World Series. He was the guy there for them. He pitched for a playoff club last year in a little stint in pro ball that he had. He’s a big game pitcher and very mature. That will get you bumped to High-A out of college, especially when you come from a big time program like Virginia. He deserves to be here.”

Waddell credits his success this year to attacking hitters and getting ahead in counts. That’s an easy approach to attempt, and every pitcher wants to do that. It’s Waddell’s stuff that allows him to make it happen.

He throws two fastballs, with a four seamer that can get up to 92-93 MPH, and a two-seamer that sits in the upper 80s. He doesn’t rely on either one over the other, but instead uses them based on the team he’s facing, and how each fastball is faring that night. The four-seamer has more power, but the sinker is more forgiving and can get some ground ball outs when he’s struggling, which is something that hasn’t happened much this year. Perhaps that’s why his ground ball rate, which is normally higher, has been low this year.

Waddell has been doing a good job of throwing inside more often this year. That’s something he has done in the past, but the Pirates really stress that and he has stepped it up a bit more this year.

“It’s been something that’s been working, so why stray away from it?” Waddell said. “It’s just a matter of seeing what’s working, and trying to find outs as efficiently as you can. A lot of times when you’re pitching in, you get some good ground ball outs, and you keep your pitch count low. It’s just a matter of what’s working in a game, and how you’re feeling.”

Outside of the fastballs, Waddell has two breaking pitches, throwing a slider and a curveball. Each pitch gives batters a different look, so he uses both throughout his starts. However, the slider is more of an out pitch, because of how it plays off his fastball.

“I think it’s something that the slider looks more like the fastball,” Waddell says. “It kind of goes on the same plane. So if you’re getting ground outs with your fastball, it means they’re normally hitting on top of it. So a slider, you’re going to use it a bit more.”

I got a chance to see Waddell during one of his “worst” outings this year. He gave up two runs on three hits and a walk in five innings. Even of that night, he was getting ahead of hitters, pounding the strike zone, and looking advanced for this level.

The Pirates already gave him one aggressive push this year, but if he keeps pitching like this, he could warrant another big push to Altoona by mid-season, following Brault’s progression from last year. Waddell emerging as a promising starting pitching prospect gives the Pirates another lefty starting prospect, joining Brault and Tarpley in the top three levels. Oh, and despite being drafted out of college last year, Waddell is actually the youngest of the group. Overall, this is a nice change for the Pirates, getting some promising left-handed pitching prospects, which is always a good thing for the future in PNC Park.

  • I don’t follow many draft prospects outside of the top guys but from seeing him in the College World Series I liked that the Bucs picked Waddell. Very competitive, yet calm and collected just picking apart batters pitch by pitch.

    • Justin Wilson was a big CWS star, too.

      We seem to gravitate towards those kinds of arms?

      If Waddell’s stuff doesn’t play higher up, at worst, we may have another Tony Watson?

      You never have enough pitching, especially lefties.