We’ve gotten to that point deep in baseball’s offseason where just about everyone (including us) is talking about prospects. This week, MLB Pipeline has begun the run-up to their updated organizational rankings and overall top 100 by starting to unveil their top 10 prospects by position. The top 10 right-handed pitchers were released on Monday, though no Milwaukee Brewer farmhands made the list. Yesterday, Pipeline presented their top 10 left-handed pitchers, and a familiar name sat atop the register; according to MLB Pipeline, Josh Hader is the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball.
Hader was ranked #6 on last year’s list, but after his strong 2016 campaign and the graduations of players like Steven Matz, Julio Urias, and Blake Snell from prospect status, the long-haired lefty has ascended to #1 in the eyes of Pipeline’s evaluators. According to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, “Once upon a time, some felt Hader was destined to land in the bullpen. That talk has quieted as his stuff and command of it have improved.” He expects to see Hader in the big leagues some time in 2017.
Josh is followed on the list by Jason Groome of the Red Sox at #2, Braxton Garrett of the Marlins at #3, then Kolby Allard of the Braves, Yohander Mendez of the Rangers, Amir Garrett of the Reds, A.J. Puk of the A’s, Justus Sheffield of the Yankees, Sean Newcomb of the Braves, and then Stephen Gonsalves of the Twins rounds out the top 10.
In his scouting report, Hader received grades of 65 (on the 20-80 scale) for his fastball, 60 for his slider, and 45 for both his changeup and control. His overall grade is a 55, which gives him the upside of a mid-rotation starter in the big leagues. Here’s part of the write up on Josh:
Hader possesses electric stuff, as he'll consistently operate at 93-97 mph with his fastball and complement it with a wipeout slider. The pairing enables him to miss bats with ease, a notion evidenced by his full-season-best 11.5 K/9 in 2016, and that should continue as Hader makes further strides with his changeup. Meanwhile, everything Hader throws plays up on account of his deceptive delivery, especially after he shifted to the first-base side of the rubber during the 2015 season.
Hader's control and command backed up a bit last season as Triple-A hitters consistently put pressure on him to throw strikes early in counts, leading to too many elevated pitch counts and abbreviated outings. With improvement on that front as well as a more effective changeup, Hader could emerge as the Brewers' most dynamic starter in short order.
Hader began last season by dominating the AA level for Biloxi, posting a 0.95 ERA and 73:19 K/BB ratio in 57.0 innings before getting promoted to AAA Colorado Springs. As the write up mentioned, Hader’s control suffered a bit at the highest level of the minors, and he worked to more earthly marks of a 5.22 ERA and 4.7 BB/9 in 69.0 (nice) innings for the Sky Sox. The high altitude no doubt played a role in Hader’s struggle to prevent runs, as he still struck out 11.5 batters per nine in AAA and he posted a much more palatable 2.78 Deserved Run Average during his 14 starts at the level.
Hader figures to begin the 2017 season back in Colorado Springs, but it seem unlikely that he’ll be there too long. Once we’ve passed the typical ‘Super 2’ cut-off date, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get called up to the big leagues by sometime in June. Josh Hader obviously still has plenty of work to do to in order to reach his lofty ceiling, but there’s plenty of reason to be excited about what the future may hold for this dynamic arm.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus