First Pitch: JT Brubaker has Developed Into a Pitcher

The Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a very poor start this season and Mitch Keller left last night’s game early, so things went from bad to worse. However, there was one major highlight from last night, besides the late comeback attempt that fell just short. JT Brubaker made his second big league appearance and it was very impressive. After throwing two shutout innings in his debut, he followed that up with three scoreless frames last night. It’s still an extremely small sample size, but it’s encouraging.

I don’t want to assume anything with Keller being hurt, but they are probably going to be very cautious with him, so we could very well see Brubaker take his rotation spot when it comes up next. He might not be stretched out enough to go deep in the game, but that shouldn’t keep him from getting a better look.

Despite being injured for most of last year, we still felt confident enough in Brubaker to rank him 11th in the system when our 2020 Prospect Guide first came out. He has since moved down due to trade/draft additions, but that obviously wasn’t a knock against him, it was because the system got stronger. Many people forget (or didn’t know) that Brubaker would have likely lost his prospect status last year if he didn’t get injured, because he was the top option for a replacement starter early in the season before Keller was ready. The Pirates would have used him often last year with all of their injuries.

I thought I’d share a quick story about Brubaker when he was with West Virginia back in 2015. He wasn’t throwing as hard as he does now (he hit 99 MPH as a starter in Altoona), but he was sitting 90-93 with a nice four-pitch mix. Back then, Brubaker was a thrower, not a pitcher. He was one of the most frustrating pitchers to watch, but we were also a bit higher on him than most because his stats didn’t tell the entire story.

I saw him in person multiple times that year and on a handful of times and it was always the same thing. He would find something that worked, then stayed with it too long. From memory, it felt like every start was a copy of the previous one. Brubaker would get guys chasing on a slider outside the zone and then that same pitch came 4-5 more times in a row and it worked three times, then didn’t work the last three times. Then a changeup would get a strike and you would see a barrage of changeups. Then a high fastball, etc etc etc. He had swing-and-miss pitches, just no idea how to mix pitches. He would get hurt when he went to the well too many times. He broke from that pattern, but it was really tough watching someone with his stuff, especially when he added about five MPH, put up back-to-back seasons with a 4.44 ERA.

Brubaker developed into a pitcher and now we are seeing his upside at the big league level. He has starter potential, even if he doesn’t have ace material. Before his injury, he still had some development left, mostly trying to be more efficient with his pitches, to allow him to go deeper in games. With all of the missed time (injury and shutdown), there’s probably some polishing left to do, but he can get it in at the big league level this year.

Here are yesterday’s articles in case you missed them on the Pirates History site:

Card of the Day – Special one, featuring Ke’Bryan Hayes

This Date – Milt May and others

1979 Recap – Pirates vs Cardinals

Game Rewind – Danny Murtaugh puts the dagger into one of the NL’s top pitchers for the third time

More history articles to come this morning. Game Discussion will be at 2:20 PM today. Attendance is encouraged.