JT Brubaker Rounds Out His Repertoire
With so many top prospects in big league camp this year, it’s easy for 25-year-old righthander JT Brubaker to get lost in the mix. But that shouldn't be the case.
The 2015 sixth-rounder out of Akron struggled at high Class A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona in 2016 and 2017, recording a 4.44 ERA in 26 appearances each season.
Even though Brubaker's surface numbers during this period were unimpressive, his stuff looked crisp. His two-seam fastball sat in the mid-to-upper 90s—and even touched 99 mph in relief—and his slider showed bat-missing potential.
Brubaker rebounded by claiming the organization's minor league pitcher of the year award in 2018, which he spent at Double-A and Triple-A Indianapolis. His results—2.81 ERA in 28 starts with 131 strikeouts in 154 innings—were finally matching his stuff, but that required a change in approach, and an upgrade to his slider.
Brubaker throws his slider like a cutter, and it marries cutter velocity with slider movement.
"It was more of a grip-it-and-rip-it type deal,” Brubaker said. "I definitely saw a little velo increase. It's a little more cutter-ish, side-to-side, but still when it's down in the zone it has that good slider down action to it.”
Brubaker's harder slider pairs well with his two-seamer, particularly after he developed stronger command of his breaking ball.
He began last season by throwing both his fastball and slider down the middle and letting the pitches move to opposite edges of the plate. As the season progressed, he gained better feel for each pitch, including an ability to throw two-seamers inside to righthanders and back-foot sliders to lefties.
It also helped that Brubaker got away from the middle of the plate, throwing his four-seam fastball up more frequently, and his two-seam lower.
"Last year I lived a lot at the belt, trying to jam hitters," Brubaker said. "Living there, inside and out, it can get you hurt if you miss over the plate.”
Brubaker will return to Triple-A to start the year, but the Pirates are looking at him as rotation depth, if he continues to make strides with his approach.
—The Pirates claimed righthander Jesus Liranzo on waivers from the Dodgers last April. The hard-throwing reliever has gotten his fastball up to 102 mph but has seen some alarming control issues. Liranzo spent the offseason in the Dominican League, where he showed better control, thanks in part to working with former major league pitcher Ramon Ramirez, who made an adjustment to Liranzo’s windup.
—The Pirates are seeing early power results from outfielder Jason Martin and third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes so far this spring. Each player had two homers in a limited number of spring at-bats.
Power production will be a key thing to watch in the Pirates' system this year after the organization overhauled its entire hitting leadership, with new hitting coaches in the majors and new hitting coordinators in the minors. The Pirates' goal was to incorporate more of the modern approaches to hitting, which so far has included the use of Rapsodo technology to get better readings and analytics on the system's hitters.