Analyzing Baltimore Orioles Prospect DL Hall's Recent Gem
Winston-Salem, N.C. — Orioles top pitching prospect DL Hall's first three starts at high Class A Frederick this season had not gone as well as he would have liked. The lefthander, who blitzed the low Class A South Atlantic League in his first full season as a pro, had allowed six earned runs over his first 10 innings and sported an ERA north of 6.00.
In his fourth start, on the road against a talented Winston-Salem club whose roster includes two of the most talented hitters in the Carolina League in outfielder Luis Robert and second baseman Nick Madrigal, Hall was magnificent. He mixed and matched the pieces of his terrific arsenal to hold the Dash to just one hit over five innings while striking out eight.
"I think comfort had a lot to do with it, just finally settling in," Hall said. "You have those outings early in the year where everything's not clicking quite yet. Luckily I battled through them, and hopefully this is a start to a long road of good outings. Hopefully this will be the start to that. It was definitely a different feel from the previous three outings to tonight, it was awesome."
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Hall's evening was his willingness to sequence his pitches in ways one might not expect from a 20-year-old pitching at high Class A. Of the 16 hitters Hall faced, at least half were started with something other than a fastball.
"It's definitely something a little bit new," Hall said. "I've always tried to do it just to develop myself, but it's even more magnified now into trying to do it against every hitter and mixing all your pitches and throwing all your pitches for strikes versus just sitting up there and pumping fastballs, because in pro ball you can't really do that because guys just sit on them and they can hit 95 easy."
He doubled up on changeups to open one hitter, later tripled up on curveballs and generally showed a willingness to pitch backward as often as he relied on his mid-90s fastball, which touched as high as 97 mph and featured plus two-seam life in on lefthanded hitters.
Even with a weapon that tantalizing, Hall was more than willing to distribute his offspeed pitches—including a full complement of curveballs, sliders and changeups—in a way that was effective for both the task at hand and the long developmental road ahead.
"He had command on four pitches tonight," Frederick pitching coach Justin Lord said. "He had a good mix and kept hitters off-balance. He stayed in a mix where he wasn't predictable and he threw strikes with four different pitches. That was the key to his success tonight."
Take, for example, the way Hall attacked Robert—a hitter gifted with both power and speed who entered the series hitting an absurd .475—in the two at-bats they faced each other.
Leading off the game, Hall started Robert with a 94 mph heater up and away that Robert fouled off. He followed the fastball with three consecutive changeups—the first two missed the strike zone and the third, a beautiful pitch on which Robert was guessing fastball, elicited a tremendous swing and miss. With the count 2-2, Hall went back to the gas, thigh-high and away at 95 mph, for swinging strike three.
The next time two faced one another, leading off the fourth inning, Hall flipped the script. Once more he opened with a fastball-changeup sequence, and Robert fouled both pitches away. Instead of continuing to use his offspeed pitches like he did in the first inning, he served Robert three consecutive heaters, the final a 94 mph offering for a called third strike.
By keeping Robert guessing, Hall neutralized the Dash's most fearsome offensive threat and twice kept the bases clean for Madrigal, a contact machine who could have easily found a way to put bat on ball and move Robert into scoring position.
"I just wanted to go at him," Hall said of Robert. "When you're going up against big hitters like that who have a name like that and can really swing the bat, I just wanted to go at him with my best stuff and not back down.
"I think that was my biggest thing. Mentally, when he stepped in the box I knew what he could do and how good he can hit and I think I just locked it in and threw my best stuff to him and didn't back down and didn't try to be too fine. I said 'Here's my best stuff, try to hit it,' and it worked out.'"
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The Orioles' front office this offseason underwent a near-total makeover. Two of the executives who helped fueled the Astros' rise—Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal—were installed, respectively, as the team's general manager and assistant general manager in charge of analytics. Unsurprisingly, that means Orioles prospects now have a lot more data to play with as they develop.
In Hall's case, the technology has helped him become more consistent with his curveball and slider, which were both effective against Winston-Salem.
"I think I could probably go on for days," Hall said, when asked what he'd learned about himself from all the data about himself he's gleaned through the use of technology.
"There's so much to learn through all that stuff. It's broken down into so many parts. … Learning how certain stuff helps with my breaking pitches and the development with my breaking pitches has been incredible, and I think it started to show a little bit tonight."
KEEP AN EYE ON: Two South Atlantic League shortstops have impressed in the early portion of the season. The Mets' Ronny Mauricio, in his full-season debut at low Class A Columbia, has shown impressive feel to hit and enough raw power to project as an everyday regular once he gets to the big leagues. There are questions about his defensive home that will largely be determined by how his lanky body fills out as he matures, but right now he's shown the blend of skills and tools make evaluators believe he can stick at shortstop. By the same token, Phillies prospect Luis Garcia, who is making his full-season debut at low Class A Lakewood has shown sneaky power as well as a plus arm while rotating with between second and shortstop with Jonathan Guzman. The numbers aren't there yet, but he's 18 and showing tools in a full-season league. … Staying in the Sally League, Yankees righthander Luis Gil has used a fastball that evaluators view as a potential 80-grade offering to dominate in the early going. Gil has whiffed 26 over his first 17.1 innings while allowing just seven hits. There are command and control concerns (he's walked 11 in the same time frame) and the feel for spin isn't consistent yet, but he's still showing encouraging sign for a lottery ticket acquired from the Twins a little more than a year ago.