Donovan Hand has been a part of the Brewers organization for a long time. He was drafted in the 14th round in 2007, and spent most of 2008 through 2011 playing for AA Huntsville. His final promotion to AAA Nashville in May of 2011 was the one that stuck, and he stayed there before his major league debut in late May 2013. What got Hand's career unstuck in 2012? His walk rate had been high during his 2011 AAA stint, but he moved that down to a more tolerable 2.0 BB/9 in 2012 for his first full AAA season. He also pitched his most innings since 2009 when he was used as a part-time starter. Hand has never put out outstanding strikeout rates; his minor league career 5.8 K/9 is rather typical for most of his seasons, except for 2013 where he put up 9.6 strikeouts per 9 innings over 35.2 innings at Nashville and a 4.6 K/9 over 68.1 IP for the Brewers.
Hand probably entered the starter picture for the Brewers in 2013 due to his winter league performance in the preceding offseason. He played for Caribes de Anzoategui in the Venezuelan Winter League and made 7 starts, pitching a total of 34.1 innings. He walked 8 and struck out 28, but also gave up 5 home runs; was this an indication of what was to befall him as a major league starter?
Actually, it's hard to say if Hand's gopher ball tendencies in MLB are an indicator of anything. He's pitched slightly more innings as a starter as a reliever--36.2 vs 31.2--but he's given up 9 home runs in his starts and only 1 in his relief appearances. 3 of those home runs were given up in one start at Coors Field, where Hand's primary pitch mix of sinkers and curveballs is less effective. All three home runs were hit off sinkers. Hand, like Jimmy Nelson, is fairly reliant on producing ground ball outs and his GB/FB ratio in MLB is not significantly different than his minor league one. There isn't enough data to predict any sort of trend in 2014, whether for home run tendencies or abilities as a starter versus reliever. Hand's BB/9 and K/9 are about the same in both roles. It's still unclear what the Brewers will expect out of him next season. Much like Tom Gorzelanny, he can perform adequately in both roles but it doesn't mean that he should; the Brewers have plenty of starting prospects they will probably like to see more of at the AAA level and the relief situation in Milwaukee may make Hand valuable to the major league club because of his ability to pitch in both roles and potential to serve in long relief if needed.
Hand's best game of 2013 was his first major league start against Atlanta at Miller Park on June 22nd, after 8 relief appearances. He shut out the Braves on two hits over 4.2 innings before running into some control trouble in the 5th.
Hand has 127 days (about 3/4 of a season) of service time and will be eligible for arbitration after the 2016 season and eligible for free agency after the 2019 season.
Previous MVBrewers posts can be seen at the links below:
#1: Carlos Gomez
#2: Jonathan Lucroy
#3: Jean Segura
#4: Kyle Lohse
#5: Norichika Aoki
#6: Jim Henderson
#7: Brandon Kintzler
#8: Yovani Gallardo
#9: Wily Peralta
#10: Scooter Gennett
Honorable mentions: Marco Estrada, Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, Tyler Thornburg,Aramis Ramirez, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Bianchi, Caleb Gindl, Logan Schafer, Rob Wooten
Lesser Brewers: Burke Badenhop, Francisco Rodriguez, Jimmy Nelson