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Prospect Q&A: J.T. Brubaker moves up the ladder

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Colorado Rockies Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

J.T. Brubaker is emerging in Altoona as a starting-rotation candidate in Pittsburgh in the coming years, adding wrinkles to what was already a fairly mature approach coming out of the University of Akron. I saw Brubaker get bitten by the home run bug. He hadn’t allowed a homer for two months, so pay little mind to Sunday’s performance. He hit 94 MPH and has been known to sit there on his good days. I was able to chat with the 2015 sixth-round pick on Saturday.

What’s been going well for you?

Just being able to have the mindset to attack every hitter, making sure you’re focused on every pitch, every batter, and able to throw every pitch for a strike. That’s really it. I’m throwing the fastball in and out, too.

How do you work on command and control? What specifically can you do?

It all starts with the throwing program, consistent throwing. How you get loose, how you throw. It all starts there before you even get on the mount.

What’s been different in Double-A?

The only thing that’s really been different is when the pitchers hit — knowing lineups, knowing where you are in the lineup, knowing situations, even when there’s a DH. That’s a little bit different of an approach, how you’re going to throw guys, knowing where runners are, knowing who’s in the lineup, where the pitcher’s due up, early in the game, late in the game, if there’s going to be a pinch hitter or if they’re going to send a pitcher up again. That was a little bit different.

Are the lineups themselves, or the hitters’ approaches, a little different at Double-A?

I was asked that last year (split between Low-A West Virginia and High-A Bradenton). The way I would say it, your top three guys in Low-A were more consistent. In High-A the top three or four are more consistent. Here in Double-A, the top guys in those previous levels become the entire lineup. That would be the best way to explain that.

How are your specific pitches coming along (four-seam and two-seam fastballs, changeup, slider)?

With the fastball, it’s just being able to locate it in and out, even in and off (the plate), the way the Pirates like it. They like to throw it in and off, keep guys honest. With the changeup, being able to throw it to both lefties and righties for a strike, and it breaks out of the bottom of the zone. That’s big. And the slider, just being able to prove that I can throw it for a strike and they know it. It keeps them honest to where, if I do throw it in the dirt, they’re almost forced to swing at it or have an attempt at it because they know I can throw it for a strike.

Is inside-outside more of a focus up here, like “pound the zone low,” which I heard a lot in West Virginia?

Yes. Pitching low in the zone, it’s hard to hit. Down and away, they’re not going to get it up in the air much. Each person’s different with how they pitch. My experience, coming up each level I’ve learned how to pitch in and out, when to throw up in the zone, when to keep it down in the zone. You (frequently) want to throw it down in the zone, but there are situations where you want to throw up in the zone. For instance, if you know a lefty’s sweet spot is down and in, and you want to go in on him, in at the belt, in at the belly button, that would be in-up. That would be a good situation to go up in the zone. Or if you know a guy to swing at the high ball, go up for a fastball 0-2, 1-2. Different situations call for different locations, up and down, but the basis is you want to live down in the zone. If you live down in the zone and then you’re able to elevate a pitch in the zone when you want to, it’s effective and it’s hard to hit, because the hitter’s eyes are down there so often.

Is your velocity up this year? Is that something you’ve noticed?

Yeah, I’ve noticed it a little bit. It’s slowly been increasing. I don’t feel that I’m trying to add any extra effort into it. I feel like it’s just slowly creeping up more, just coming out hotter and hotter, which is good because it allows the changeup and offspeed to play more effectively.

What do you think leads to a velocity increase? Better mechanics? Strength? Just a better feel?

Mastering mechanics plays into it. It goes back to the throwing program. You never master it; there’s always stuff you can do to be better, but knowing your mechanics, knowing your throwing program routine, working out, lifting, getting stronger, conditioning. Everything we do before the game plays into it, and I think that’s where it all started with the velo increase. It’s before I even step out onto the mound.

What’s your outlook as a guy that’s moved up fairly quickly to Double-A? How do you look at your progress?

Each year when I’ve progressed, I’ve learned more and more at each level. Moving up you always find something to take away from each league, each level that will help you in the future. It’s not like it comes with a setback, it’s just constantly learning, picking up information, picking up tendencies, keys, things that can help you. It helps just from playing with the guys you play with, the keys they use that might help you. Always being aware of the game is a big thing that I’ve noticed and grasped on to. You work with numerous coaches, pitching coaches, managers. This is my second year with Michael Ryan. Learning something new at each level is my thing. If you can do that, you’ll be good. It will continue to progress. You’ll continue to become a better player and you’ll continue to move and be better for it.