Orioles fans could use some good pitching-prospect news following the word that No. 1 Minor League arm Grayson Rodriguez could miss the rest of the season with a lat strain.
Try this on for size -- DL Hall is healthy and becoming more productive by the outing at Triple-A Norfolk.
That first point is a big one. Baltimore’s No. 5 prospect was limited to only 31 2/3 innings last season due to a stress reaction in his left elbow, and afterward, he began a slow ramp-up to the 2022 campaign that didn’t see him throwing again at all until last November and then into bullpens in the first months of the year.
“When you're going through the rehab process, it's hard to see the end of the tunnel,” Hall said. “But once I started playing catch and then I started throwing my first bullpens and things like that off the mound, that was when I started realizing, ‘Alright, we’re getting there.’ It’s almost go time.”
The O’s started the 23-year-old southpaw with rehab stints in High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie before giving him his Triple-A debut on May 10. Five starts later on Sunday, he tossed five innings in an appearance for the first time since June 5, 2021 (exactly one year earlier), and he struck out a season-best nine Jacksonville batters while allowing two earned runs on two hits and two walks. With the Tides this season, Hall owns a 4.57 ERA with 35 strikeouts and 13 walks in 21 2/3 frames. He has struck out 38.8 percent of the batters he’s faced across all three levels.
Based on stuff and improving results, Hall is looking very much a deserved member of the Top 100 prospect list, and he credits the long build-up for his K-heavy ways.
“I think honestly it made it a little easier for me to improve my command,” he said. “I had a lot more stretched-out throwing program. I have more time to gain feel and then start ramping up versus just ramping up and getting ready for Spring Training in a normal offseason.”
Our No. 81 overall prospect talked to MLB Pipeline last month in Norfolk about his four-pitch repertoire:
If you’ve come this far, you might already know that Hall throws hard. Very hard. He’s capable of touching triple digits and can sit 96-98 mph regularly with the heater.
The southpaw showed promising velocity for his age coming out of a Georgia high school in 2017, but even then, he was more around the 90-93 mph range. The O’s selected Hall 21st overall that year, and it was around the 2019 season that he turned some of his projection into true near-top-of-the-scale heat.
“I started taking my training in the offseason a lot more serious and really just grinding to try to really take it to the next level,” he said. “That was huge for me to just try and put on some weight, do everything that I needed to do, all the way from recovery to working out.”
The added velocity has made Hall’s fastball his most reliable pitch, and that was evident Sunday. Hall threw 43 fastballs in the start and landed 31 of them for strikes. A whopping 15 of the 43 heaters resulted in called strikes or whiffs for a CSW rate of 34.9 percent -- all of which can be seen in the clip above. (Anything above 30 percent is considered good.) Those 15 CSWs were more than the totals of his other three pitches combined (13).
One other important note: these were all four-seam fastballs. Hall and the Orioles prefer the four-seamer because of the ride he can put on it up in the zone, and eight of his 15 fastball CSW’s were on high pitches. He has another good reason to prefer the four-seam.
“I threw two-seams in Low-A, and I gave up, I think, three homers," he said, "so I promised to never throw them again.”
Hall boasts two distinct breaking balls, and by his own admission, he prefers to throw the curveball to right-handers and the slider to left-handers, he says. The thinking is that the sweep of the slider is much tougher to pick up for same-side batters, while the up-and-down curve plays into the verticality of his fastball and can deceive right-handers who aren’t expecting it to plop into the zone.
For instance, seven of Jacksonville’s nine starting hitters were right-handed in this June 5 matchup, and as such, Hall threw more curves (11) than sliders (eight).
By CSW rate, the curve, which typically sits in the low-80s with around 2,700 rpm of spin and 4.5 feet of vertical break, may have been his best pitch in this five-inning gem. Six of the 11 (54.5 percent) landed for called strikes or whiffs. Four of them were in the former category, and two of those came in two-strike counts.
In all, four of Hall’s nine K’s came on the curve here, equal to the number that came on the heater.
By comparison, Hall elicited only three swings on his eight sliders thrown. However, all three of those swings were whiffs. He didn’t get any called strikes on the pitch, but a CSW rate of 37.5 percent still clears the 30-percent threshold comfortably.
Some evaluators prefer Hall’s slider to his curve because the upper-80s offering features a promising mix of velo and sweep that gives left-handers fits. Fellow Top 100 prospect JJ Bleday can attest to that as he blanked on swings against the slider in both the second and fourth innings.
So as much as he can lean on either pitch on any given day, Hall says he just wants to make sure that his two breaking balls stay distinct from one another.
“Both of them have improved tremendously over the past two years," he said. "Just differentiating them is the biggest thing for me. Not letting them mix and look similar. Get that true depth on my curveball and get the sweep to my slider was huge for me. When I was younger, I would run into the problem where they would mix a little bit. Now, they have about 10 mph difference and a lot different shapes.”
Like many prep arms, Hall didn’t need much of a changeup in his early high school days. Up until 10th grade, he messed around with a knuckleball instead. The clearer it got that he could make a career out of his time on the mound, the clearer it was that he needed an actual cambio.
“I feel like it's even more so a feel pitch than a breaking ball,” Hall said. “I never really threw one in high school. I had one, but I hardly threw it. … Now it's my favorite pitch. I just love changeups. When I have feel for my changeup, I just feel like I'm on top of my game. Just having that pitch off my fastball with the velo [difference] is huge.”
It’s that contrast in velocity that makes Hall’s changeup his fourth weapon. The separation between his heater and change is even starker than the one between his slider and curveball -- about 11-13 mph -- and that pulling of the string keeps hitters off-balance. Hall threw 11 changeups in this June 5 outing and got called strikes or whiffs on four (36.4 percent) of them.
Because of the strength of that changeup (and the aforementioned curve), right-handers are 9-for-52 (.173) with only two extra-base hits (both doubles) and 22 strikeouts against the Norfolk southpaw.
The quality and depth of Hall’s arsenal are there to make him an impact starting pitcher at the top level. The biggest deal might just be keeping him on the mound since the 23-year-old has yet to throw more than 94 1/3 innings in a season. As he increases his workload outing by outing, the closer he gets to providing Camden Yards with another big Major League debut.
“As long as I can stay out there on the field, I trust in my ability and all the work I’ve put in,” Hall said. “Just have to stay healthy. I feel super close. I’m ready to go. I’m waiting on it.”