By Jason Shetler
When the Pirates drafted J.T. Brubaker as a sixth rounder out of Toledo University in 2015, he was a pitch to contact type pitcher, as he posted a 54% groundball rate and had a 6.0 K/9 in his debut season with the West Virginia Black Bears that year.
Brubaker began the 2016 campaign for the West Virginia Power. He made 12 starts with them, putting up a 3.48 ERA and a 4.11 FIP, before receiving a promotion to High A Bradenton in June. Despite being in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, Brubaker struggled with the Marauders, as he had an ERA of 5.32, along with a 4.42 FIP in 14 starts.
The 2017 season for Brubaker started in Altoona. During the month of May, he had a blister on his right finger and was on the disabled list for about two weeks. In 26 outings for the Curve, Brubaker had a 4.44 ERA, although his FIP was more respectable at 3.67.
Entering October, Brubaker was one of four Pirates minor league pitchers to participate in the Arizona Fall League. He held his own against some of the game’s top prospects, posting a 2.63 ERA, a 10.5 K/9 and a 1.3 BB/9 in eight appearances, all of which were in relief.
The success Brubaker had in the AFL has certainly carried over into the early part of 2018. In his first four starts with Altoona, he’s been lights out, registering a 1.57 ERA, with an almost similar 1.60 FIP. He has 27 strikeouts (10.6 K/9), which are tied for third most in the Eastern League, while he’s really limited baserunners, with a WHIP of 0.96. Brubaker’s two-seam fastball has been generating a ton of grounders, as his groundball rate is currently at 61%. A promotion to AAA Indianapolis probably isn’t too far off for Brubaker. He’s shown the ability to locate his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, but his slider and changeup will need to be consistent, once he faces more advanced hitters at the AAA level. If he’s able to do so, then he could become a quality depth option as a starter or long reliever for the Pirates at some point next year.