What to expect from Brandon Pfaadt in The Show

D-backs' No. 3 prospect joins rotation after leading Minors in K's last year

May 3rd, 2023

The D-backs’ chances of making a dark horse run at a National League playoff spot were always going to come down to how well their young players could transition to prominent Major League roles in 2023.

Time to add another big gun.

Arizona is calling up top pitching prospect Brandon Pfaadt to make his Major League debut against Texas on Wednesday, the club confirmed Tuesday. The 24-year-old right-hander is ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 51 overall prospect and trails only Jordan Lawlar (No. 9) and Druw Jones (No. 13) among D-backs on the Top 100 list.

Pfaadt heads to The Show for the first time after opening with a 3.91 ERA, 30 strikeouts and six walks in five starts (25 1/3 frames) with Triple-A Reno. Entering play Tuesday, Pfaadt’s 28.6 percent K-rate led pitchers in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, while his 1.18 WHIP placed second and his 14.4 percent swinging-strike rate placed third among qualifiers in the circuit.

The 2020 fifth-rounder returned to Reno after leading all Minor Leaguers with 218 strikeouts over 167 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season. In doing so, Pfaadt fanned the most Minor League batters over a single season since 2001 (Brandon Claussen, 220).

It’s that type of swing-and-miss ability that should ease Pfaadt’s transition to the bigs immediately beginning Wednesday.

The 6-foot-4 right-hander has typically been around 92-95 mph with his four-seam fastball in the opening days of the 2023 season and has topped out at 96.7 mph, per Statcast. The four-seamer has impressive carry up in the zone that aids its whiff count -- Pfaadt got nine swings-and-misses on the heater alone in his last start on April 26 -- and its average spin rate of 2,473 rpm would place 10th in the Majors between the four seamers of Zack Wheeler (2,480) and Vince Velasquez (2,469).

That said, on a pure by-pitch basis, Pfaadt’s 83-85 mph slider might be even better at making opposing batters look silly. The pitch is tight enough that the D-backs hurler can land it where he wants and yank it away from righties sitting heat or in to lefties. His 87-89 mph changeup moves more armside but gives him another vertical, diving option compared to the high fastball, though it’s reserved more for opposite-side bats. An upper-70s curveball is a distinct fourth pitch compared to the rest of his arsenal but at least gives batters something else to think about.

The ability to work the periphery of all four quadrants of the zone has been one of the defining improvements of Pfaadt’s rise from his time as a fifth-round pick in 2020 out of Division II Bellarmine University, and it should be a skill that can plug in quickly with Arizona. At the very least, Pfaadt should throw strikes; his 5.8 percent walk rate at Triple-A ranks 14th over the 125 pitchers to throw at least 80 innings at the level the past two seasons.

Where Pfaadt could get pounded is if he’s too much in the zone. Five of his 24 hits allowed this season have ended up in the seats, four of which came in his April 2 season opener at home against Las Vegas. The high elevation of the PCL certainly played a role there, but Major League-quality hitters can be just as punishing to young pitchers.

The D-backs have a bona fide ace in Zac Gallen and another solid rotation option in Merrill Kelly, but now with the long-ineffective Madison Bumgarner out of the picture, the club needs a reliable No. 3 starter. Based on his results and quality of stuff over the last two seasons, Pfaadt could assume that role quickly beginning Wednesday, and in the process, give Arizona another big push back toward the postseason for the first time since 2017.