Braves' Hale has ability to start or pitch out of 'pen
Local product should be asset to deep Atlanta pitching corps in any role needed
Some teams might wilt under the weight of losing multiple starting pitchers in the early days of a new season. To their credit, the Atlanta Braves moved swiftly to find solutions to their rotation issues this year.
The team had to proceed without Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, both of whom underwent Tommy John surgery. Mike Minor has dealt with shoulder tendinitis but is back pitching for the club, and Gavin Floyd just returned after rehabbing from his own Tommy John procedure last season.
The Braves acted quickly to add free-agent pitchers Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang to the rotation. For a third starting pitcher, Atlanta looked internally and selected right-hander David Hale to assume the role.
Outside of Braves fans, few people probably ever heard of Hale. But there he was, in the rotation of a very competitive National League club.
Hale, ranked No. 9 on the Braves' Top 20 Prospects list, is a right-hander from Marietta, Ga. At The Walker School in Marietta, Hale played as an infielder and made a transition to pitching.
Hale, 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, attended Princeton University, where he was a two-way player. At Princeton, he refined and further developed his pitching ability. Hale actually spent more time as a center fielder than he did as a pitcher. However, Atlanta selected him as a pitcher in the third round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
Hale is a unique scholar-athlete. The Braves selected him following his junior year at Princeton. Determined to earn his degree in economics, Hale returned to Princeton for the following two falls and gained his diploma.
Hale began his career at Rookie-level Danville in the Appalachian League. He started only one of the seven games in which he appeared, throwing a total of 16 innings. Hale yielded only seven hits and walked five for a WHIP of 0.75. He went 2-1 with an ERA of 1.12. It was an outstanding beginning of Hale's career.
The next two seasons, Hale pitched at Class A Rome and then at Class A Advanced Lynchburg. He worked both as a starter and as a reliever. In 2012, Hale appeared in 27 games at Double-A Mississippi, all as a starter. He had a 3.77 ERA in 145 2/3 innings.
Last season at Triple-A Gwinnett, Hale had 20 starts in his 22 appearances. He threw 114 2/3 innings with an ERA of 3.22. Hale's WHIP was 1.38, walking only 2.8 hitters per nine innings. He struck out an average of six hitters per nine innings.
The net result of parts of five Minor League seasons is a pitcher with the capability of starting or relieving for Atlanta. Hale started two games for the Braves last September. He pitched 11 innings and finished with a 0.82 ERA. Hale's record was 1-0. He walked only one batter and struck out 14.
This season, the needs of the club provided Hale the opportunity as a starting pitcher, even if temporarily.
Hale is well conditioned and capable of handling the pressures and responsibility of pitching in the Major Leagues. He has a strong and fast arm, with the capability of consistently throwing in the 91-92 mph range with a four-seam fastball. He has the same velocity on his sinker. Those are two pitches that Hale uses more than 60 percent of the time. If he can get ahead in the count with his fastball, he can use his secondary pitches more effectively. In addition to the fastball, Hale also throws a changeup and a very effective slider.
Hale has sound mechanics on the mound, with a fluid and improving consistency in his release point and delivery. When I have watched Hale, he has used his mid-80s slider as a "putaway" pitch. It works. So far this season, he has been extremely effective against left-handed hitters, a rare quality for a right-handed pitcher.
Given the return to the rotation of Minor, Hale will pitch from the Braves' bullpen. However, he has a strong enough arm to pitch effectively in any role required. If needed, the team will have the luxury of having an intelligent, experienced pitcher available with poise and confidence regardless of role. Hale's effective mound presence should carry him to a bright pitching future.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.