STEVEN BRAULT, LEFT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: April 29, 1992
Drafted: 11th Round, 339th Overall, 2013 (Orioles)
How Acquired: Trade (from Orioles for Travis Snider)
College: Regis University
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Brault was a two-way player at Division II Regis University. He played center when he wasn’t pitching and is considered very athletic. On the mound, he’s a command-oriented lefty who throws a two-seam fastball in the upper-80s and a four-seamer in the low-90s. He also throws a slider and change, with the latter his best secondary pitch. He’s shown very good control so far and has a high groundout-to-air-out ratio. Brault was a two-way player in college and appears to have a good bat, which would be helpful given the historically bad hitting of Pirates’ pitchers in recent years. The Pirates acquired him as the player-to-be-named-later when they traded Travis Snider to the Orioles.
Brault pitched well in his debut, in a dozen starts, in the New York-Penn League. As a Division II player, he was probably slightly less advanced than many of his competitors. Baseball America rated him Baltimore’s 14th best prospect after the season.
Brault made a successful move to full-season ball, including three late starts at high A. He was equally tough on both left-handed and right-handed hitters. BA ranked him 18th in the Orioles’ system after the season.
Brault opened the season at Bradenton and got off to a slow start, with an 8.10 ERA in his first three starts. He started pitching much better, though, and after 13 starts the Pirates moved him up to Altoona. He was outstanding over 15 starts, improving his walk and K rates, and holding opponents to a .212 average. He allowed only four HRs total on the year and just one in 90 innings for Altoona. He was deadly against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .401 OPS. Right-handed hitters posted a .636 figure against him. When he had a chance to hit, Brault helped himself by batting .438 (7-for-16).
Brault opened at Indianapolis and got off to a strong start, but suffered a leg injury in his sixth outing. He returned after a month and made two more AAA starts, then got called up to make one start in place of Jameson Taillon, who’d been shut down for a brief rest. Brault went back to AAA for three more starts, including two in which he threw six shutout innings each, then returned for another spot start. The Pirates sent him back to AAA for five August starts and he began struggling with his command, walking 13 in 20 innings and running up high pitch counts. The Pirates brought him back to the majors at the end of August and he remained in the rotation for five more starts. His last appearance was a rough relief outing. Throughout his time in the majors and for part of his time in AAA, Brault struggled to get ahead, frequently got deep in the count, and ran up both high pitch counts and fairly high walk totals. In the majors, he threw strikes only 42.3% of the time (average is 47.8%) and was able to get hitters to chase pitches outside the strike zone only 23.6% of the time (average is 30.3%). He was able to last five innings in only three of his seven major league starts. On the plus side, he did show some ability to miss bats and he had a solid groundball rate of 45.1%. In the majors, he was hurt by a very high .354 BABIP.
Brault ostensibly was in the mix for the Pirates’ fifth starter spot in spring training, but he was optioned to AAA earlier than the other candidates (Tyler Glasnow, Trevor Williams and Drew Hutchison) even though he had roughly as good a spring as Glasnow or Williams, and far better than Hutchison. The Pirates’ explanation was that Brault needed to get stretched out to start; they’d used him only in relief and didn’t give him as many innings as the other starter candidates. That suggests he was never really in the mix. He went to AAA and ultimately had one of the best seasons of any pitcher in the minors. He had some issues with high pitch counts early, but mostly got over it, although walks remained a problem at times. Generally, though, he dominated, although his xFIP in AAA (3.81) wasn’t nearly as impressive as his ERA. The Pirates called him up briefly in July and he made two relief appearances, then he came up for good in mid-August, pitching in relief at first but making four starts in September. The first three starts went reasonably well overall, including six shutout, one-hit innings in one against the Brewers. In his last start he couldn’t throw strikes. He had a big platoon split in the majors, with an .832 opponents’ OPS against right-handed batters and .657 against left-handed batters. At the plate, he went 6-for-19 with two doubles between the majors and minors.
Brault opened the season with in the Pirates’ bullpen. He worked mostly in long relief, although he also got five spot starts. He struggled frequently with control problems that resulted both in a lot of walks and a lot of hitters counts. He seemed to be getting a handle on it in May, when he struck out 18 and walked five in 11.2 IP, but in June he walked 14 in 16.1 IP. After he walked a dozen in 12.1 IP from July 1 through August 1, the Pirates optioned Brault to AAA. They brought him back in late August, in time so he didn’t use up an option. He had three good outings before the end of the month, but in September he had a 6.23 ERA and 1.77 WHIP. Overall, he improved his K rate and had a big platoon split. He held left-handed batters to a .640 OPS while right-handed batters had a .796 OPS against him.
Brault didn’t have a good spring and was slated to head to AAA, the result of having an option left. He got a reprieve, though, when Jordan Lyles opened the season on the injured list. He started off in the bullpen, but made two starts in early May and joined the rotation for good late in the month. From May 29 through September 1, he was the Pirates’ best starter, although he missed most of July with a sore shoulder. During that stretch, he had a 2.84 ERA and held opponents to a 244/319/353 batting line. In his last four starts, though, things went south as he allowed 23 earned runs in 18.1 IP. Overall, he had a sizeable platoon split, holding left-handed hitters to a .688 OPS while allowing an .822 mark to right-handed batters. He continued to hurt himself with control problems and allowed 1.2 home runs per nine innings, which was better than most of the team’s staff. Brault got a lot of attention for his hitting, as he batted 333/349/429 with his first career homer. The Pirates played with a short bench more than ever, so Brault pinch hit eight times, batting .500. He also pinch-ran twice.
Brault had his best season; in fact, he was the Pirates’ best pitcher. He was originally slated to pitch in relief, but injuries pushed him into the rotation. The Pirates kept his innings total very low until his last two starts. In those two, he threw his first career complete game, allowing just one run, and then seven shutout innings in the other, allowing just two hits in each game. He gave up just two home runs on the year. Brault was helped by a low BABIP of .243, so his xFIP was 4.85. His stats were inflated by his one relief appearance, in which he allowed four runs without retiring a batter. He did give up a lot less hard contact on the season, so the results may not be unrepeatable. He allowed an average exit velocity five mph lower than the previous year, the percentage of hard contact he allowed also dropped sharply, and his opponents’ slugging average dropped by nearly 100 points. Like many of the team’s pitchers, Brault cut his fastball usage sharply, but in his case he went more heavily with his change, especially late in the season. Opponents batted just .118 and slugged just .147 against the pitch. Even before the DH was instituted for the shortened season, manager Derek Shelton showed no interest in using Brault in the outfield and he didn’t bat at all.
Brault’s season was largely a lost one. He suffered a lat spring during spring training and opened the season on the 60-day injured list. He made it back to the majors at the beginning of August and pitched well over four starts, then got hammered in two and last just two innings in his seventh. That was on September 10 and he was shut down for the season after that, having re-injured the lat.
Brault had a very encouraging finish to his 2020 season and pitched well when he first came back in 2021. He should get another chance in 2022 to show he can last through a season, or most of one, in the rotation.
UPDATE: Shockingly, the Pirates designated Brault for assignment to make room for Jose Quintana. Or maybe it wasn’t so shocking. Brault was projected to get a little over $2M in arbitration and the Pirates have become so incredibly cheap that they’ll readily dump a player over that amount of money while keeping substantially inferior players on the roster. If Brault clears waivers, he has enough service time to refuse assignment to the minor leagues. Hence, he’s unlikely to be returning.
2020: Major league minimum
|Signing Bonus: N/A
MiLB Debut: 2013
MLB Debut: 7/5/2016
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2022
Rule 5 Eligible: Protected
Added to 40-Man: 7/5/2016
Options Remaining: 1 (USED: 2016, 2017)
MLB Service Time: 4.082
|June 7, 2013: Drafted in the 11th round, 339th overall, by the Baltimore Orioles; signed on June 14.
January 27, 2015: Traded by the Baltimore Orioles with Stephen Tarpley to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Travis Snider (identified as player to be named later on February 20).
July 5, 2016: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.