The Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans were expecting right-handed pitching prospect J.T. Brubaker to contribute to the major league team at some point during the 2019 season. After all, Brubaker had been the best pitching prospect in the organization in 2018, pitching better than even fellow top prospect Mitch Keller.
After a stellar season with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in 2018 where he would start 22 games, while pitching 119 innings with a 3.10 earned run average, 96 strikeouts, 1.31 WHIP and an 8-4 record, Brubaker earned himself the Pirates Minor League Pitcher of the Year award.
Brubaker would begin 2019 in Indianapolis and would pitch well right from the beginning of the season. However, a right forearm strain would cause the team to shut him down on multiple occasions before finally deciding on shutting him down for the year in June.
In total, Brubaker would start only 4 games in 2019, pitching 21 innings with a 2.57 earned run average, 1.09 WHIP, with 20 strikeouts and a 2-1 record. He would return to the mound later in the year to rehab his arm and would have a normal offseason training program.
Earlier this week, the Pirates announced that Brubaker was 100% recovered and had reported to spring training with no limitations. Brubaker is currently part of the Pirates 40-man roster but is expected to begin the season in Indianapolis. However, a strong showing in spring training could play an impactful role in that decision-making process.
Brubaker was the 6th round pick of the Pirates in 2015 when the team selected him with the 187th overall pick in the draft out of the University of Akron. He is currently ranked as the 20th overall prospect in the Pirates system.
Featuring a plus fastball that has been clocked as high as 99 miles per hour on the radar gun, Brubaker has a four-pitch arsenal at his disposal. On a scale of 20-80 with 50 being average, Brubaker’s two-seam fastball is rated at 60, his hard slider has a rating of 55, his curveball also has a rating of 55, and his newly developed changeup has a rating of 40.
Currently, he needs to work on better differentiating between his fastball and changeup to have better effectiveness. The two pitches are too similar at the moment, which doesn’t allow for Brubaker to effectively utilize the off speed pitch to fool batters into swinging early.
Despite having an above-average pitch arsenal at his disposal and a fastball that reaches near triple-digit speeds, Brubaker isn’t a pitcher with elite strikeout totals. While that is certainly something he may develop into as he fine-tunes some of his newer pitches and refines his pitch selection, he currently has a pedestrian K/9 rate of 7.6 in his minor league career.
While he isn’t generating a ton of swing-and-miss outs, Brubaker is effective at pitching to contact, while keeping the baseball in the park. During his minor league career, he has a very impressive rate of 0.6 home runs given up per nine innings.
Also, Brubaker controls his pitches well and has an excellent walk rate. His career minor league walk rate 2.7 batters per nine innings is something that should provide effective results regardless of what level he is pitching at.
Even if the 6’3” and 185-pound righty begins the season in Indianapolis as expected, there is a very good chance that he is called up to the majors this season either as a regular starter or for the occasional spot start.
Currently, Brubaker projects as a pitching prospect with a ceiling of a number two or three starting pitcher. If he can remain healthy and further develop some of the pitches in his arsenal, the sky is the limit in regards to his potential.
Pirates fans should keep a close eye on his results in spring training, as they will serve as a solid indicator in regards to his health and recovery. If fully healthy, he serves as a viable option to be a major contributor this season and for the foreseeable future in Pittsburgh.