Right-hander Hunter Harvey garners most of the attention when the pitching staff at Low-A Delmarva is discussed, but three left-handers in the six-man starting rotation are doing their part to ensure the Shorebirds continue to compete in the South Atlantic League.
Mitch Horacek, Steven Brault, and Luis Gonzalez are among the system’s best pitchers halfway through the minor league season, with each ranking among the league leaders for starting pitchers.
Horacek, unfortunately both for him and the timing of this piece, turned in his worst outing of the season Wednesday night when he allowed five runs in 5 1/3 innings. The fact that the start brought his ERA to 2.99 says plenty about how the 2013 ninth-round pick out of Dartmouth has performed this year.
He uses three pitches -- a fastball that sits 89-91 mph, a 79-81 mph breaking ball, and a changeup in that range. He’s not overpowering, but he locates the ball well and mixes his pitches effectively. He has struck out just over a batter per inning (82 in 81 1/3 innings), and has a 1.20 WHIP in 14 starts.
Horacek isn’t a pitcher you’ll see atop prospect charts, but when I saw him last month in Salisbury, a nearby scout remarked to a colleague that he could easily see Horacek as a left-hander out of a major league bullpen. When you can see that all the way down in the South Atlantic League, there’s something to be said for your future prospects.
Brault’s 2.73 ERA is best on the team among starters, and 10th among qualifying pitchers in the league heading into his Thursday start against West Virginia. Selected in the 11th round last year, Brault is another tall, pitchability left-hander who works quickly with a deceptive 87-89 mph fastball, a low-80s slider and a low-80s changeup. Brault’s 0.95 WHIP is lowest among qualifying pitchers in the league, and his 70 strikeouts are third-most on the team.
If Gonzalez qualified for ERA or WHIP, he also would be among the league leaders. The 22-year-old Dominican was signed after the Philadelphia Phillies released him in spring training last year, and he was sent back to the Dominican Summer League last summer before returning to a stateside affiliate midseason this year with Delmarva. I haven’t had a look yet this year, but he seems to have honed his control (11 walks in 31 innings), and has 29 strikeouts with a 2-0 record and a 1.74 ERA.
Horacek and Brault, both college draft picks from 2013, have a bit of a longer track record than Gonzalez. But all three are older, seemingly refined pitchers whose ceilings are within reach.
None have the upside of Harvey, or even Eduardo Rodriguez, on the next tier of prospects. But as the Orioles look to build depth in their farm for their own roster or trade purposes, pitchers like these three are great to have in the system.