On Sunday evening LHP Josh Hader made his Triple-A debut for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Brewers) against the Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals) of the Pacific Coast League. At times Hader’s performance was a bit uneven, though on the whole it was exactly the sort of outing we have come to expect from a player who, in the past year or so, has generated as much helium as any pitching prospect in the upper minors.
A 19th-round pick of the Orioles in 2012, Hader has dominated hitters at every level. In 2013, when he was traded to the Astros as part of a package for RHP Bud Norris, he finished with a 2.77 ERA in 22 combined starts for Low-A Delmarva and Quad Cities. He then spent most of 2014 with the Lancaster JetHawks of the hitter-friendly California League, where he finished with a 2.70 ERA, 112 strikeouts in 103.1 IP, and was named California League Pitcher of the Year. In 2015, when he was acquired by the Brewers as part of a blockbuster deal for OF Carlos Gomez and RHP Mike Fiers, Hader finished with a 3.03 ERA in 17 combined starts for Double-A Corpus Christi and Biloxi. Since then he has smothered hitters in both the Arizona Fall League (0.56 ERA) and in his second go-around with Biloxi of the Double-A Southern League (0.95 ERA).
Hader’s ascent has not gone unnoticed. He ranked #94 on our offseason Consensus Top 100 Fantasy Prospects List and is sure to appear much higher on our next installment. Last year I spoke to Tom Flanagan, Milwaukee’s new Farm Director, about Hader’s impression on his new organization. And last month Domenic Lanza profiled Hader and suggested that the young lefthander had nothing left to prove in Double-A.
Most write-ups on Hader include similar observations about his tendencies on the mound. Early on, his funky, three-quarters delivery convinced many scouts that his future lay in the bullpen, but at this point there is no question the Brewers intend to continue developing him as a starter. He works mostly off of a low-to-mid 90s fastball that can touch the upper 90s when needed. His secondary pitches have improved, and he’s not afraid to throw them in any count, though the fastball remains the putaway pitch. His command, however, remains inconsistent.
In his Triple-A debut, it would be fair to say that Hader pitched to his scouting report. The first thing one notices about Hader is his elaborate delivery, which includes a rocking motion and a hesitation move prior to the leg kick. The delivery works for him. Early in the game he used his fastball to great effect, getting ahead of the first five batters he faced. At Biloxi he struck out 73 in only 57.1 innings, and the final line in his first start with Colorado Springs (6 IP, 1 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 9 K) suggests that he will continue to fan hitters at an elite rate. Of those nine strikeouts, it bears noting that eight of them came on the fastball.
Alas, Hader’s start was not without hiccups. After getting ahead of those first five batters, the young lefty threw first-pitch balls to eight of the next nine hitters. During one stretch in the troublesome third inning, nine of ten Hader offerings missed the strike zone. It was in that third inning that Memphis scored both of its runs on a two-run double by OF Tommy Pham, the Redbirds’ only hit of the game. In all, Hader threw first-pitch strikes to only 11 of the 22 batters he faced, which helps explain why he reached 100 pitches by the end of the 6th inning. If not for a pair of outs on the basepaths, he would not have made it even that far.
Hiccups aside, this was an encouraging and occasionally dominant Triple-A debut for one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. The rebuilding Brewers, of course, have no incentive to rush Hader to the Majors. Keep him in mind as a possible September call-up, however. He should help your ERA while serving as an outstanding source of strikeouts. It would be an upset if he’s not a full-time member of the Milwaukee rotation by this time next season.