Minor league report: Brault at his best when being deceptive
Deception is a concept Steven Brault understands better with each week he spends on the Altoona Curve's pitching staff.
Results from his first Double-A outing proved deceiving, as they suggested a rough road ahead for the 23-year-old left-hander.
After that start, Brault began to befuddle batters with a quirky delivery that's a key part of his pitching approach.
Acquired as the player to be named in the January trade that sent Travis Snider to the Baltimore Orioles, Brault, an 11th-round draft pick in 2013 out of Division II Regis (Colo.), ascended to the Pirates' Altoona affiliate in late June after a 13-game stint with High-A Bradenton in which he maintained a 3.02 ERA and struck out more than twice as many (45) as he walked (21).
After allowing 10 hits and four runs in his first start with Altoona, Brault recovered in his next three outings and entered the weekend with a 2.74 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 23 innings.
“The jump from High-A to Double-A, it's probably the biggest in the minor league portion of baseball,” Altoona pitching coach Justin Meccage said. “Things were going a little fast for him, and the delivery got a little out of whack. Looking back now, he was (wound) up a little more than normal, and I think the energy of the move got to him. He's progressively gotten a little bit better every time out. … We got him back to doing his thing, delivery wise.”
His first outing with the Curve lasted 4 1⁄3 innings, his shortest since he threw just 1 2⁄3 in a poor start for Bradenton on April 22.
Brault responded with back-to-back scoreless starts. He struck out five each time, and he allowed one hit in a seven-inning performance July 1.
Though he surrendered three runs and 10 hits during 5 2⁄3 innings Monday, Brault became the first Altoona pitcher to get 10 strikeouts since Jameson Taillon did it May 19, 2013.
“With the funkiness he has, I think he's going to have the ability to strike out people — maybe not at the rate that he was the other night, but I think he can, especially as that slider keeps getting better,” Meccage said.
“He has a little drop-and-drive type deal working that creates a little bit of deception. It's just not your typical, smooth Gerrit Cole-type delivery. It's a little bit herky-jerky, and that's what makes him special — that little bit of deception created from the funkiness of his delivery.”
While in Baltimore's farm system, Brault dealt with a structured development program for pitchers. He said even something as simple as playing catch needed to happen a certain way.
Other than its expectation that Brault stay in the strike zone with all of his pitches, the Pirates organization affords the lefty a fair bit of developmental freedom.
“It's always nice to know that you're unique,” Brault said. “(The Pirates are) just more about painting the zone, if you know what I mean.”
Meccage sees Brault's style as comparable to Jeff Locke's.
“That's kind of who he models, the way he pitches,” Meccage said. “Locke has to pitch inside, and when he's at his best, he's pitching in. That's kind of what we've talked to Brault about.”