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Southpaw Hader has Majors starter potential

Prospect grateful for 'big opportunity' at first big league camp
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

PHOENIX -- Two small adjustments made a big difference for Josh Hader, the Astros-turned-Brewers left-hander who is poised for a significant rise when MLBPipeline.com unveils Milwaukee's new Top 30 Prospects list this week.

In the middle of last season, which saw Hader traded to Milwaukee along with three other prospects for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers, the 21-year-old moved from the third base side of the pitching rubber to the first base side, where he had a better angle against both right-handed and left-handed hitters. Hader also altered the grip of his slider, moving his fingers to the seams to create a better feel.

PHOENIX -- Two small adjustments made a big difference for Josh Hader, the Astros-turned-Brewers left-hander who is poised for a significant rise when MLBPipeline.com unveils Milwaukee's new Top 30 Prospects list this week.

In the middle of last season, which saw Hader traded to Milwaukee along with three other prospects for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers, the 21-year-old moved from the third base side of the pitching rubber to the first base side, where he had a better angle against both right-handed and left-handed hitters. Hader also altered the grip of his slider, moving his fingers to the seams to create a better feel.

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The combination of subtle changes, he said, "let me attack the zone a lot better."

The result was the finest, and longest, season of his professional career, which made Hader the Brewers prospect with the most helium heading into 2016.

Video: Hader discusses changing the grip on his slider

It appears he'll be rated the Brewers' No. 4 prospect when an updated Top 30 is unveiled Tuesday. That's where Hader fell among the five Brewers on MLBPipeline.com's 2016 list of the Top 100 Prospects. Hader was No. 61, behind shortstop Orlando Arcia (No. 6), center fielder Brett Phillips (No. 32), right-hander Jorge Lopez (No. 57) and ahead of outfielder Trent Clark (No. 83).

In 104 regular-season innings between the Astros' and Brewers' Double-A affiliates, Hader posted a 3.03 ERA and struck out more than 10 batters for every nine innings of work. After the trade, Hader struck out 11.6 batters per nine innings in seven starts at Double-A Biloxi, then was downright dominant in the Arizona Fall League, where he allowed one earned run on eight hits in 16 innings with 19 strikeouts.

Now entering his first full season with the Brewers, Hader is in his first Major League Spring Training camp.

"This is a big opportunity for me, just to show myself at this level," Hader said. "I want to see how I compete against big league guys."

Tweet from @AdamMcCalvy: Some Josh Hader breaking balls. The voice making the Chris Sale comp belongs to Charlie Greene. pic.twitter.com/qTtrRwba6X

Hader, who turns 22 on April 7, stands out at Maryvale Baseball Park because of his long hair, his left-handedness (the Brewers have only four southpaws currently in camp) and his trademark delivery, a sling that reminds many observers of White Sox ace Chris Sale.

"Josh is just unique," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "His arm angle is unique, and it stands out. I think he's in the process of feeling that consistency, but he clearly took a big step forward last year and gained a lot of confidence. Especially down in the Fall League here.

"He's in a good place. It's a different look, and it's big velocity, and it's tough for the hitter. Hitters want to see something they see a lot, and he's giving you something you don't see a lot."

Hader said he's naturally thrown like that his whole life with only minor adjustments of hand positioning. The hitch in his arm action, Hader said, provides a sort of rhythm that keeps the rest of his body in sync.

Counsell joked that he's OK with the comparison to Sale, "as long as you're guaranteeing it."

"It's the dream," Counsell said. "He's got a chance to be a very good Major League pitcher, no question."

Tweet from @AdamMcCalvy: Photo day in Brewers camp. If Josh Hader makes it to Miller Park, here's what you'll see on the big board: pic.twitter.com/sD15SNxuG2

Some scouts believe Hader's funky delivery will eventually lead him to a relief role, but Counsell reiterated on Sunday that the Brewers are committed to Hader as a starting pitcher. The Brewers are a long way from setting their Minor League assignments, and the hitter-friendly conditions at Triple-A Colorado Springs could prompt some creative thinking with their top young pitchers, but Hader figures to begin the season in a rotation with fellow prospects Lopez and Adrian Houser.

"I'm just trying to get the experience of being around all the big leaguers," Hader said of his first big league camp. "Kind of seeing how they do things, maybe get some extra knowledge from picking their brains.

"So, yeah, a big opportunity. It could lead up to something."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Milwaukee Brewers, Josh Hader