JT Brubaker is Emerging as Another Hard Throwing Starting Pitching Prospect

ALTOONA, Pa. – On June 13th in Altoona, JT Brubaker threw one of the best games I’ve seen all season for the Curve, going seven innings without allowing a run on only three hits. More impressively, Brubaker struck out ten batters in the outing, the first Curve pitcher to have double-digit strikeouts in a single game since Tyler Glasnow two years prior.

That outing extended his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 13.1 innings pitched, including six shutout innings during his previous start. Although that streak would end at 15 innings during his last time out, Brubaker has showcased quite the arsenal. He has shown plenty of reason as to why we have him rated as a Top 30 prospect in the Pirates’ minor league system.

Brubaker’s numbers never really jumped off the paper in college, but he made significant improvements during his junior season, pitching to a 3.63 ERA and 7.25 K/9.

Professionally, he stormed out to a 2.82 ERA in Low-A West Virginia after being drafted in 2015. Last year, he did well for the Power with a 11.18 K/9 rate before struggling through 14 outings in Bradenton. His promotion to Altoona this year was aggressive — yet not unusual — for college pitchers based off of what the Pirates have done in the past.

All season, you would see signs of breaking out for the tall right-hander, but it has seemed like he hasn’t fully reached his potential. Pitching Coordinator Justin Meccage says that Brubaker has been best served to figure things out at the Double-A level.

“I think these guys are still truly learning how to pitch at this level,” Meccage said. “They are finding out how important it is to get ahead and stay ahead of these good hitters.”

Last week in Altoona, Brubaker did just that. He got ahead — and stayed ahead — of the Portland Sea Dog hitters all game. He controlled his fastball extremely well then worked his breaking pitches off of the fastball.

“We were just moving the fastball in and out,” Brubaker said. “The Pirates want the fastball in-and-out to keep their feet moving. Jin-De [Jhang] has caught my last two, and we’ve been working on that game plan.”

And that fastball was being piped hard around the zone, as Brubaker threw the pitch up to 97 MPH that night. Throughout the beginning of the year, I had seen his fastball sit around 93-95 MPH. On that night, it was sitting 95-97 MPH.

When I asked him if he has thrown that hard in the past, Brubaker responded by saying he had “maybe once in college, but that would’ve been me reaching back and throwing as hard as I can.”

“I’m just getting more reps on the mound and in the bullpen,” Brubaker said. “It doesn’t feel like the fastball is coming out any hotter. It feels normal, and I’m not trying to do any more with it. If the velocity is going up, that’s awesome.”

The fastball coming in that quick is obviously impressive, but his breaking stuff has improved as the season has progressed. His slider and changeup have been used as out pitches, and they have impressed his coaches.

“It’s the secondary pitches that are sticking out to me,” Curve manager Michael Ryan said. “Instead of just a sinker/slider guy where he wasn’t getting the slider over much, teams were eliminating that pitch because it was just a chase pitch. Now you have to watch out for it, so it makes him that much more effective. His off-speed development from last year to this year is night and day.”

Now, profiling Brubaker, he is a tall righty — with a bit of room to grow and get stronger — who has shown the ability to throw four effective pitches: two- and four-seam fastball, change-up, and slider. Lately, the consistency has been there. If he can figure out how to “pitch” as he progresses through the levels, he definitely has the ability to pitch in the majors.

“The last few outings, I’ve been able to use my breaking ball in all counts, and it has opened up for the fastball to play more,” Brubaker said. “Being able to get ahead with the fastball and ahead with the off-speed plays a big part in what opposing hitters have and what I do next. With that weapon, I feel confident. Being able to throw more strikes opens the doors for more pitches and better fastballs.”

Brubaker has not been satisfied with any result, either. He always seems to come away from his starts with more things to work on and ways to challenge himself further. He really has been a great motivator to himself, and he always gives his all on the mound, no matter the outcome.

“Moving forward, I need to keep working and not get complacent,” Brubaker said. “Keep working hard on the days between starts and in the weight room — everything that is behind the scenes that people don’t see. Keep pushing and the rest will take care of itself.”

From what I’ve seen, Brubaker definitely has the traits to continue moving up the ladder. Not all of the pieces are there quite yet, but they seem to be coming. He looks like a guy who could move into the starting pitching depth mix in the upper levels in the next year, becoming one of many options for the Pirates starting in the second half of 2018.

  • FYI, I think it’s Justin Meccage, not Message. Pronounced like message, though.

    • Sean McCool
      June 21, 2017 7:52 pm

      It 100% is Meccage. My auto-correct even tried to change it just now when I typed it. I didn’t even realize it was changed to “Message” in the post…

  • Not to change the subject but Meadows is getting an MRI on his hamstring after feeling discomfort according to another Pittsburgh sports website. Anxiously awaiting what PP has to say…

  • piraterican21
    June 21, 2017 3:50 pm

    How old is he?

  • James Corradino
    June 21, 2017 3:06 pm

    Sean, love your stuff but I wasn’t impressed with Brubaker’s last Sunday in Hartford. He does throw hard, 94-97 into the 6th, but it was very straight and very hittable as evidenced by constant solid contact by the Yard Goats. I hope it was an off night because otherwise he won’t get past Indy.

    • ScottinMass
      June 21, 2017 3:38 pm

      He did give up some hard hit balls on Sunday at Hartford, but I was somewhat impressed with what I saw. Showed a mix of 3 pitches, buried a couple breaking balls in the dirt for strikeouts (1 that Jhang couldn’t recover to throw out the batter at 1st) and was still hitting 96 (on the stadium gun) in the 6th inning. I think the article hits the nail on the head for him, he has ability that may continue to move him up the ladder.

      • I saw him in Harrisburg on Jun 7th (6 innings, 2 H, 0 runs, 5K, 0 BB) and he did look very good. The Senators, though, aren’t boasting a lot of talent this year.

        I’m in Altoona mid-July for work and will get to 5 games. We should see him again this season.

    • exactly why he currently is in AA. Good to see options continuing to develop.