He’s getting ready to make his final start of the minor league season on Friday night. And for the Orioles 2017 top draft pick, 19-year-old left-hander DL Hall, there has been almost nothing but success in his first full season of professional baseball.
He’s made all his starts, been healthy, dramatically improved his changeup, posted very good statistics and gained both knowledge and maturity. And he’s ending the year on a tremendous roll. He’s checked off pretty much every box, so what is not to like about Hall’s 2018 season?
In 21 games with Single-A Delmarva he is 2-7 with an ERA of 2.22. Don’t let the win-loss record fool you. The Orioles wanted Hall to pitch through a full season but they limited his innings and pitch count and many times he would throw less than the required five innings to even get a win.
But since June 10, Hall has cranked out 12 straight starts allowing one earned run or less and his ERA is 0.97 in this span. Six times he’s had scoreless starts and over 55 2/3 he has given up 36 hits with 22 walks and 66 strikeouts.
The No. 21 overall pick in the June 2017 draft out of a Georgia high school, he’s shown a fastball that often sits between 92 and 94 mph and touches 95 and 96 along with a curve, slider and changeup. Hall is at 89 1/3 innings for the year and has thrown six innings just two times and over 80 pitches just three times.
But the Orioles were not going to give the youngster too many innings to handle coming off his senior of high school where he threw about 60-70 innings and then added a few in the Gulf Coast League after signing. He’ll approach 100 this year and be set up to push that further for 2019 when he very likely would begin with Single-A Frederick with the potential to move up during the year.
Delmarva pitching coach Justin Lord has been there every step of the way this year to see a young pitcher with a strong work ethic learning the ropes in the pro game and constantly pushing to get better.
“The biggest thing for me is just seeing how he developed from the beginning of April to late August,” Lord said. “We monitored his innings but just to see him develop as a pitcher. The talent has always been there. Seeing him begin to command his fastball better, seeing him develop his changeup to where he is confidence to throw it in tight situations. Throwing back-to-back breaking balls to a lefty hitter where he missed with the first one and struck him out looking with the second one. Just those little things along the way where you see him develop confidence in his ability.
“That is all a by-product of the work he has put in. He’s developed a routine and learned what it takes to get the most out of his body each day and each start. How to deal with the tough travel schedule. How to prepare well for each start and all of this has been really encouraging to see.”
The Orioles signed Hall to a $3 million signing bonus after drafting him last year and he made his entry into pro ball with 10 1/3 innings in the GCL. Baseball America ranked him as the club’s No. 5 prospect heading into this season and then No. 4 this year at mid-season. He is currently No. 3 on the O’s list from MLBPipeline.com.
As Hall began the 2018 season he did so with his curveball considered his best secondary pitch. But that has changed and his most consistent secondary as the season is ending is his rapidly-improving changeup. The curve has been less consistent but the changeup gains have been impressive for a young pitcher.
“My curveball, I’ve had some adjustments with it and still trying to get the feel for that pitch,” said Hall. “So my curveball is still a work in progress. Had to start over a little bit with it. But the changeup came along really, really well and right now it’s my best secondary.”
He added that the pitch is a big reason that while lefties hit just .254 against him, right-handed batters have hit just .180 off the southpaw.
“Yeah, that is a huge reason,” Hall said. “My stats in previous years would be the exact opposite. I always love facing lefties and feel like I have an advantage over them with my curveball. But now that has flip-flopped with my changeup that puts pressure on the righties. And losing my curveball a bit has helped out the lefties. Once I get them both going together maybe it can be something special.”
Hall explained that the seams are different than the baseballs he used on the amateur level and that has been one challenge throwing his curveball although his slider has been solid this year.
“Also my arm is working a little faster than it used to,” he added. “I think I just have to find the right release point. It was just like with the changeup, which got better with the reps. Once I finish out this year and start back throwing again to get ready for next year I’m going to really work on that. Now that I have the feel for my changeup, I can focus on the curveball. Just need to get that release point and get that sharpness back to it.”
None of this has kept Hall from posting an ERA that would rank third in the South Atlantic League if he had enough innings to quality for the league leaders. He will come up a few innings short of that, but his ERA would also rank first among all O’s minor league starting pitchers.
But this kid is about to wrap up one solid first full professional season - one that very likely will see him move into some national top 100 prospects lists over the winter.
“I think I’ve matured a lot as a pitcher this year,” he said. “One of the biggest things where I have improved on is command of the fastball. I think that has been one of the most helpful things this season. I’ve learned to really pitch instead of just throw. The long season is a grind but it’s also been a lot of fun,” he said.
Added Lord: “Another thing that has stood out that may go unnoticed is that he has pitched well in games where he didn’t have his best stuff or his best command. He found ways to get hitters out. That is a huge asset for a young pitcher. Maybe some nights you don’t have that one pitch you can go to, but he’ll give you everything he’s got and he really battled in those games. He minimized damage and he got himself deeper into those games than you might have thought and that’s a big sign of maturity for a young pitcher.”
Hall will head to the Orioles instructional league in September but he is not expected to throw there but rather take part in the strength and conditioning camp. That will put the finishing touches on one fine season for the lefty.
Cobb on Jones: Right-hander Alex Cobb did not get a win last night but the Orioles did, 10-5 over Toronto to produce their first three-game sweep of the year. Adam Jones hit his second career grand slam - his first ever at Oriole Park - and drove in five to tie his career-high.
After the game Cobb threw plenty of praise in Jones’ direction.
“Obviously, the grand slam put us on top and completely switched the momentum of the game,” Cobb said. “It’s just fun to see him have fun. He’s meant so much to this organization. For him to go out there and have big moments like that in a season that’s kind of lost for us, it’s fun to see and fun to be a part of. I don’t know what the future holds for him here, but being his teammate has been a lot of fun.”
The Orioles scored 29 runs on 41 hits in the series, going 18-for-38 (.474) with runners in scoring postion. The team speed we’ve seen on display has pumped some life into the team.
“Yeah, we’re playing great,” added Cobb. “We’re putting up a ton of runs each game. We’re playing great defense. There’s just an energy, there’s a confidence about some guys getting an opportunity to play. And you have to take advantage of it when you’re a younger guy, know that you’re on an audition and there’s always somebody else out there that wants your job, so there’s no lack of energy in the clubhouse, for sure.”
The Orioles take today off and play at Kansas City for three games over the weekend. While the Orioles have won three in a row, the Royals have won four of five. These teams are contending for baseball’s worst record which leads to the top draft pick next June. As Friday’s series begins the Orioles will be “leading” in that race by 2 1/2 games at 40-94 to Kansas City’s 42-91.