Less than ten months ago, Josh Hader was largely viewed as the third piece in the deal that sent Carlos Gomez to the Astros. While it would be misleading to say that he was viewed as a throw-in, few saw him as much more than a lottery ticket - a southpaw with a funky delivery that could dial it up into the mid-90s that seemed destined for the bullpen. Heading into the 2016 season, our team and Baseball Prospectus bought into that sentiment, at least to some degree.
And now at least one scout views him as the second-best left-handed pitching prospect in all of baseball.
Hader has been nothing short of spectacular since the trade, pitching to the following line as a Brewers farmhand - 79.1 IP, 55 H, 24 BB, 104 K, 1.82 ERA. He has a microscopic 0.89 ERA in 2016, and has yet to surrender more than one earned run in a start as of this writing. Hader is dominating to such a staggering degree that I cannot help but feel certain that he simply isn't being challenged at Double-A. With the Brewers in full-blown rebuild mode, it makes sense to move prospects around slowly; there's no need to rush anyone to the Majors when the team won't be competing anytime soon. However, stagnation could be an issue with a pitcher as dominant as Hader, who can get most Double-A hitters out without dipping into his secondary offerings.
Stepping back a bit, it is important to see the process that has led to such staggering results. The 6'3", 190-ish pound Hader features a running fastball that sits in the low to mid-90s, a tightly spun curveball that is all but unhittable for LHH, and an inconsistent yet promising mid-80s change-up. The southpaw's funky, slingshot deliver appears to have a great deal of effort, yet most scout agree that it doesn't seem to affect his velocity or release point. Moreover, it actually adds a bit of deception, making his already tremendous stuff that much more difficult to barrel. His command is average at best, but he has improved markedly in that area, and it is no longer a true weakness. For all of this, Hader has earned comparisons to Chris Sale; it's a somewhat lazy comparison, but his performance of late makes it feel a bit less far-fetched.
How has Hader done this without popping up on everyone's radar? Being dealt at consecutive trade deadlines as a secondary piece doesn't help. And, despite eye-popping strikeout rates, he had not dominated to this degree until last season (largely due to middling to subpar command). Hader was lost in the shuffle in a deep Astros system last season, as well. The Brewers also have a resurgent system, and Orlando Arcia, Brett Phillips, and Jorge Lopez tend to be viewed as the jewels of the system. And, again, the questions about his mechanics linger - and will likely never truly go away.
It comes as no surprise that the Brewers rotation has been terrible this year, checking in at 24th in BB/9, 29th in FIP, and dead last in ERA and K/9. Jimmy Nelson may well be the only starting pitcher on the active roster with a real future - and even that may be as a back-of-the-rotation starter. Help is clearly needed, both now and in the future. And for this reason, I would not be shocked to see Hader in Milwaukee sooner rather than later. Colorado Springs, the team's Triple-A affiliate, is a brutal park for pitchers (as evidenced by Jorge Lopez's awful season, among other things). Despite the Brewers aforementioned timeline, it may make sense to skip Hader over that environment entirely, and see what he can do with a big league coaching staff. And I wouldn't be shocked if he has jumped Lopez in the queue to the show.
I cannot say with certainty how the Brewers will handle Hader (though common sense dictates he has nothing left to prove at Double-A). That being said, I think he has cemented himself as the team's pitching prospect most worth owning in keeper leagues, and I am all-in on his potential as a starter. A mid-rotation ceiling is wholly attainable.