INDIANAPOLIS — He allowed three runs over five innings in his start at Norfolk.
Not quite a performance that gathered a lot of buzz or headlines, but also not one to completely toss away as unimportant.
J.T. Brubaker made quite the debut in Triple-A, throwing six shutout innings. One week later came that start in Norfolk.
He plodded through an average performance on paper, but there were signs of maturation and development in that outing even if it didn’t shine like his debut with Indianapolis.
Brubaker retired the first batter in the third inning of that game, but then allowed a walk, bunt single, double and another walk. The Tides were up 2-0 and had two runners on, but Brubaker ended that threat with a double play.
“I was not comfortable at all and I felt in certain situations, earlier in my career, that could have snowballed real quick,” Brubaker said. “I think that’s where being on the attack and constantly attacking worked for me. I was able to work my way through and limit the damage.”
That’s the maturation process.
Brubaker labeled himself as being a player who used to be more verbal with his emotions and body language in the past. Instead of worrying about a close pitch he didn’t get or a bad bounce in the field, he’s now focused on the next pitch and only the next pitch.
Those emotions are still inside of him and glimpses peek through every once in a while, but Brubaker has done a good job of not letting those show outwardly.
“He got a little frustrated and talked to himself some, but that’s the competitiveness,” Indianapolis catcher Jacob Stallings said after a recent start.
Brubaker has climbed through the organization quickly and has had some big performances at key times. He made 24 starts with Double-A Altoona last season, making another six there to open this season prior to being promoted.
But he’s constantly worked on his approach as a pitcher, as much as the finer aspects of throwing each specific pitch.
“You just have to go out and do what you can do,” Brubaker said. “You can’t go out there and be someone you’re not. … It just didn’t happen overnight. There are times where I felt I was backed in the corner and had to fight my way out.”
Indianapolis manager Brian Esposito had Brubaker on his roster when each person had the same role with Class-A West Virginia in 2015. At times, Brubaker can still try to “get too nasty” and “overcook” things, Esposito said. But overall, he’s matured into a pitcher comfortable with his skill set.
“He understands what his weapons and arsenal look like now,” Esposito said. “He knows what he has in the tank. He has a good hard fastball. He’s competing in the strike zone and knows how to finish guys off now. From West Virginia to here his stuff is a little more crisp.”
Brubaker has shown the ability to maintain his velocity in the mid-90s and slightly higher for the entire duration of an outing. And he’s received some favorable comparisons by teammates.
“I think he’s ahead of some guys in that he can throw any pitch at any time,” Stallings said. “A lot of times guys can’t do that. You see a guy like (Nick) Kingham and he can do that … but Kingham also got a lot of innings and a lot of reps down here.”
Brubaker’s two-seam fastball has a lot of movement and plays off his four-seamer well, Stallings added. But his ability to throw any pitch in any moment sets him apart.
“Just like any guy that has talent like him, it’s about getting the reps at this level,” Stallings said.
Brubaker has a ways to go before he’ll be ready for the major leagues, throwing just 26 innings with Indianapolis thus far. But his pitch repertoire and early performances show the potential he has as a pitching prospect.
If he continues to develop his ability to handle tough situations and not let rough periods spiral out of control, Brubaker has the pitch quality to push his name into consideration for a major league spot down the road.