keyboard_arrow_uptop

The Situation: The pipeline of prospects keeps coming in Milwaukee. Shortly after calling up Brett Phillips, the Brewers have added their top pitching prospect Josh Hader to the bullpen mix.

The Background: Hader was the Orioles' 19th-round draft pick in 2012. A local prep arm, he burst onto prospect radars with a dominant professional debut in short-season ball that summer. His full-season debut went swimmingly as well. Hader struck out nearly a batter per inning as a 19-year-old in the South Atlantic League before he was dealt to the Astros at the deadline as part of the Bud Norris package. The lefty wasn’t done wandering yet, though (he even looks the part of a well-traveled roadie).

After two strong years in the Houston system, he was shipped to Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez, along with his new major-league teammate, Phillips. Milwaukee’s system is where he really broke out. Hader had a dominant 2016 season, striking out 161 batters in 125 innings across the upper minors. That—coupled with his plus fastball/slider combo—was enough to make him a top-20 prospect and the second-best prospect in a very deep Brewers organization.

He's struggled with his control—never a strong suit—in 2017, but you might as well be standing on the moon when you peer down from the bump in Colorado Springs. Miller Park—not exactly a pitcher’s haven itself—will seem like quite friendly confines by comparison.

Scouting Report: Hader is long and lean and you might mistake him for a bassist in a Rusted Root cover band, but the flow only adds to his deception on the mound. The extreme crossfire and low arm slot does most of the heavy lifting in that department and makes for a very tough hitting experience for his fellow lefties. This isn’t your standard-issue southpaw deception merchant, though.

Hader’s fastball regular sees 95 mph and his slider is a potential plus offering as well. That combo alone should be enough to get major-league hitters out, but the command profile here is still fringy due to the funky delivery. Hader’s changeup is still a work in progress and could lead to some platoon issues until he finds more feel for the pitch. Yeah, this all sounds like a reliever long term, but I think he can start, and it sounds like the Brewers will give him a chance to prove it at some point this season.

Immediate Big League Future: Hader will get some non-high-leverage bullpen reps for the time being, where I expect the stuff to continue to be effective. When and if the Brewers ease him into the rotation may depend on the health of their current starting five and how long their surprising run at the top of the NL Central continues. —Jeffrey Paternostro

Fantasy Impact: It’s impossible to sugarcoat Hader’s lackluster performance in Triple-A Colorado Springs this season. The 23-year-old southpaw owns an underwhelming 5.37 ERA (9.33 DRA), 1.54 WHIP, and a 51/31 K/BB ratio over 52 innings and 12 starts. Despite his recent struggles, especially in the control department (5.4 BB/9), Hader remains an elite fantasy pitching prospect. It’s all about the strikeout potential. If his uncanny ability to miss bats remains intact at the major-league level, he will remain on the fantasy radar in perpetuity.

Rankings are merely an arbitrary snapshot in time, but it’s worth noting that Hader checked in as a top-20 prospect (no. 19 overall) in the BP pre-season Top 101 list and no. 38 overall (SP #8) on Bret Sayre and Ben Carsley’s Top 101 dynasty league prospects list just a few months ago. Ignore the minor-league struggles, focus on the insane lettuce, and the glorious strikeout rate.

If it all comes together from a command and control standpoint, it’s easy to envision the Maryland native evolving into an elite four-category fantasy starter with the potential to rank among the league leaders in strikeouts annually. That’s the best-case scenario. The omnipresent control issues present a boatload of risk in the WHIP department, and have the potential to relegate him to the bullpen on a more permanent basis if he never figures it out. Regardless of the outcome, the immense upside is high enough that Hader warrants a pickup in deeper mixed leagues right now. –George Bissell