In our fifth and final Pitcher of the Month article each season, we wait until the minor league season ends, which usually gives pitchers an extra start in September to make an impression. Going into his final start on September 5th, Scooter Hightower just needed to not completely fall apart in his outing. He was so far ahead of the rest of the pack, that it would have taken his worst career outing to knock him out of the top spot. He ended up allowing one earned run over five innings, which gave him a 1.02 ERA over 44 innings and was more than enough for him to be named as our Pirates Prospects Pitcher of the Month for August.
The worst start in August for Hightower came back on the 26th when he allowed three runs over five innings. In his other six starts combined since the beginning of August, he allowed two earned runs over 39 innings. On August 16th, he threw seven shutout innings, then backed that up with eight shutout frames just five days later. He struck out eight batters over those eight shutout innings, which was one off the nine strikeouts he had on August 31st during a six shutout inning performance. He finished the month with 33 strikeouts, then put up another five over five innings in his lone September outing.
This season started off poorly for Hightower, who had a Spring Training oblique injury and took six weeks completely off from throwing. He had ended the previous season with the West Virginia Power, but the timing of this injury, along with the amount of time he missed, meant he would start his season back in Morgantown. He wasn’t even a starter for most of Extended Spring Training, pitching in relief almost the entire time. In fact, his first appearance for Morgantown was in relief and during his first start of the season, his pitch count was limited. Despite those setbacks, he quickly established that he was one of the best pitchers in the New York-Penn League.
Hightower had his success this season due to his superb command of three pitches. One of those pitches was brand new this spring, dropping his curveball in favor of a slider. The reasoning was that the slider had more of a fastball feel to it because he could throw in harder. His four-seam fastball isn’t electric, sitting high 80s and occasionally getting into the 90-91 range, but it’s his command of the pitch and ability to move it all around the zone, which makes it effective. Hightower’s changeup might be his best pitch, with the look of a fastball until it shows late drop, which results in a swing-and-miss pitch that can also get grounders.
In 15 starts and one relief appearance this season, Hightower had a 1.94 ERA over 88 innings. He held batters to a .230 BAA and posted an 80:9 SO/BB ratio. Those 80 strikeouts are a new high for the Morgantown franchise. He finished third in the NYPL in ERA, second in innings pitched, third in strikeouts and fourth in WHIP.
There is no denying it was a terrific season, but he still has some work to do before he gets on the prospect map. He’s the type of pitcher who could skip to Bradenton next season, which would help his case because he turns 24 in October. He has a big frame and there isn’t a lot of effort in his delivery, so if he could add some velocity without sacrificing command, then that would help. He’s also a fly ball pitcher, who relies on chases up in the zone, going up the ladder on the young hitters who can’t catch up to the letter high fastballs, but still chase them often. That style could still work in Bradenton, where the ball doesn’t carry well, but it will be tough to have success that way in Altoona. Very few pitchers have his type of command though, so we will see how far that can carry him.
PITCHERS OF THE MONTH BY LEVEL
Indianapolis – Tyler Glasnow, RHP (2.63 ERA, 55:8 K/BB, 37.2 IP)
Altoona – Mitch Keller, RHP (3.12 ERA, 45:11 K/BB, 34.2 IP)
Bradenton – James Marvel, RHP (1.50 ERA, 16:5 K/BB, 24.0 IP)
West Virginia – Eduardo Vera, RHP (3.49 ERA, 31:3 K/BB, 38.2 IP)
Morgantown – Scooter Hightower, RHP (1.02 ERA, 38:5 K/BB, 44.0 IP)
Bristol – Alex Manasa, RHP (1.83 ERA, 20:1 K/BB, 19.2 IP)
GCL Pirates – Samuel Reyes, RHP (2.50 ERA, 14:4 K/BB, 18.0 IP)