Cypress, California —— I’ve now seen Saddleback College sophomore right-handed pitcher Tanner Brubaker four times in 2018, but never has he been as dominant — or flashed as advanced an understanding of sequencing and pitch selection — as what he did during his Tuesday afternoon effort on the road at Cypress College. The Gauchos’ ace improved to 10-2 on the year in his twelfth start of the season against the Chargers yesterday, working the full nine innings in exactly two hours and winning 7-0. Over 31 batters faced in that span, Brubaker allowed just two hits and no walks, hit two batters, and struck out ten — a season high — on 105 pitches (75 strikes).
I’ve written up Tanner Brubaker before, and it’s no secret I think he’s one of the better MLB Draft candidates I’ve seen take the hill from the junior college ranks this year, but Tuesday’s outing at Cypress was on another level. Whereas previous outings against Glendale College and Santa Barbara City College allowed Brubaker to establish his low 90s fastball early and easily overpower somewhat weaker hitters in lighter lineups, Saddleback’s Orange Empire Conference opponent on Tuesday had a much deeper lineup which, in my looks, had generally been taking relatively mature, advanced at-bats. Brubaker rose to the challenge, effectively pitching backwards by sequencing his slider early in counts and showing advanced command of both the fastball and slider to each side of the plate throughout the day.
Game Video — Tanner Brubaker, RHP, Saddleback College
Let’s start with our video of every pitch Tanner Brubaker threw for Saddleback College on Tuesday afternoon at Cypress, cut down to fifteen minutes. Below this, I’ll break down a little bit of what I saw yesterday in Orange County:
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News & Notes — Tanner Brubaker, RHP, Saddleback College
I’ve written up Tanner Brubaker once before this season; if you’re not familiar with him, click here to read that report first. Below, some new game notes from this most recent Tuesday afternoon start against Cypress College captured on video above…
- Four-seam fastball 90-93; Two-seam fastball 87-90; Slider 79-83; Changeup 76-81
- Noticeably quicker to the plate with runner on first base on Tuesday: 1.25, 1.26, 1.28, 1.28, 1.29. 1.31 (had been 1.38 - 1.45 in my look two months ago)
- Went to his slider a lot the first time through in this outing, much more so than in outings past; throwing slider a lot to LHH in particular as a way to go hard inside; got away with one or two of them against Dominic Campeau (LHH #7 in video)
- Advanced feel for slider side to side, and showed good, different breakers early and late in counts; multiple looks to his slider, often bigger with more pronounced break to get over early in count, and then a good deal smaller, tighter, and harder with sharp late break when he needs a wipeout to put a guy away; kept Cypress hitters off balance with mixing and matching there all day long
- Works very, very quickly; visibly challenging hitters to pick up the pace; Cypress tried to slow him down and, for the most part, it didn’t work; he dictated tempo and directed virtually every at-bat
- Pitched backwards better Tuesday than I’ve ever seen from him; consistently went off-speed to start and could get it over for a strike, and then could speed up fastball hard to good location on corners, especially two-seam with some arm-side life; also showed command to throw slider for a strike when down in the count — real difference maker here in rare at-bats where he did get down early
- As usual, really not afraid of contact; challenged hitters early in counts, pitching to contact; high strikeout total on Tuesday has not been the norm from my earlier looks this year; guy wants hitters out of the box early on weak contact and already thinks like a starter trying to work through a lineup 3+ times
- One concern – unsure if he has enough weapons to face better LHH than what he’ll see in junior college; Campeau’s at-bats are a good example of some of the challenges he’ll face against good lefties; fastball/slider combo for RHH are advanced, but he needs a better changeup with more consistent command and tumble to arm side to consistently get good LHH out; won’t be able to rely on slider alone, better LHH will hit it as it breaks into their swing path; if developed, changeup gives him legit weapon against more advanced LHH to go along with already-deadly combo to RHH
- All that said about improving his changeup, Brubaker does have feel for when to use it, just lacks life and execution; on Tuesday, he’d show changeup to RHH who managed to pull fastball hard foul or showed a good swing on the pitch; he’d then go to changeup to get guys off balance (correctly) but just couldn’t execute it as well as fastball/slider
- Good athlete; got off the mound to field his position five or six times through the course of this complete game; some were easy plays, some more advanced, but all of them completed consistently, proficiently, and calmly
Analysis — Tanner Brubaker, RHP, Saddleback College
There’s really only one aspect of Brubaker’s game that I’d love to see improve, as you can probably guess from those notes: the changeup. With the command and stuff he showed on Tuesday, Tanner Brubaker can succeed in pro ball, particularly against righties, but more advanced left-handed hitters are going to give him some trouble without a bona fide third pitch to show. I like the look of his slider hard in on lefties in certain spots, but throwing too many pitches that break down and into the natural bat path of a left-handed hitter is a recipe for trouble; more advanced lefties will sit and wait for that if he goes to the breaking ball too often and he’s going to run into some barrels.
To his credit, Brubaker did show enough feel on Tuesday to pinpoint a glove-side fastball with some run back out over the black that got lefties backed off the plate a bit, but he lacked that second off-speed with fade to get them off balance to finish the sequence. A changeup here will make a big difference, and it’s something he’s undoubtedly going to pick up at his next stop, whether through the MLB Draft this June or if he makes it to his four-year commitment in the fall at UC Irvine.
As I put in the notes above, Brubaker already has some feel for when to use his changeup, and I like how he sequenced it at points on Tuesday, signaling he’s already thinking about how to incorporate it in his game. He just can’t yet execute the pitch on the same level, or with the same advanced life, as his fastball and slider, and it should be at the top of his list to develop as he graduates to better competition in the next few years.
Admittedly, I’m splitting hairs here; the Saddleback College righty was dominant on Tuesday, and he’s undoubtedly the most advanced junior college pitcher I’ve seen all year. That the changeup hasn’t caught up to the rest of his stuff yet isn’t out of the ordinary or any cause for concern, either; I see countless High-A pitchers in the California League every summer who can sequence fastball/breaking ball with no real feel for a changeup, so it’s safe to say Brubaker is ahead of the curve at this point in his young career. As he improves his changeup, he’s really going to turn a corner towards a rotation ceiling in pro ball, and he’ll make for a nice addition to a pro organization in time. Even without it, though, Tanner Brubaker is peaking at the right time for a very good Saddleback College team; I’ll be very interested to see what happens for him in the MLB Draft this June.
News & Notes — Cypress College RHPs Jake Mahood, Kenneth Pettibone, Reid Sebby
I wasn’t at Cypress College just to see Tanner Brubaker; his adversary, Chargers right-handed pitcher Jake Mahood, is himself having a strong year, and he’s also a guy I’d written up earlier this season. Mahood didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, though, allowing an early three-run home run and never quite figuring out the command tunnel for his usually effective sinker/changeup combination. Admittedly, Mahood isn’t quite in the same class as Brubaker — he doesn’t throw hard enough at this point to draw as much interest, despite a ton of life through his entire repertoire — but the sinkerballer is a guy to keep an eye on moving forward and should make for a sneaky-good add at a four-year school. If he develops a little more velocity as he grows, I think Jake Mahood has the raw stuff to carve up pro hitters, though he’s a little bit further off than Brubaker. We’ll see.
Here are the final three of Mahood’s four innings of work, captured on video:
Mahood was then followed by righties Kenneth Pettibone and Reid Sebby, and lefty Jake Wilkerson, in relief work; Sebby in particular hit his stride well in a multi-inning outing with a decent breaking ball that showed consistent depth and some feel for commanding it side to side.
Finally, you can see video of Pettibone and Sebby from Tuesday afternoon, as well:
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