The Atlanta Braves are very aggressive about local talent and one of their recent finds is Marietta, Georgia, native David Hale, currently holding down a spot on the big league pitching staff. He'll lose his rookie eligibility this year as a result, so let's go ahead and analyze Hale as Wednesday's Prospect of the Day.
Hale took an unusual path to pro ball: the Georgia native attended college at Princeton, where he was a two-way player who hit more often than he pitched. He averaged 42 innings per year for Princeton with so-so results (4.71 ERA in 128 college innings), but scouts felt he would improve once he moved to the mound full time. The Braves drafted him in the third round in 2009.
Hale didn't perform especially well at the lower levels, posting a 4.13 ERA with a 69/44 K/BB in 94 innings in Low-A in '10 and a 4.10 ERA with an 86/30 K/BB and 106 hits allowed in 101 innings in High-A in '11. However, he took a step forward in '12 with a 3.77 ERA and a 124/67 K/BB in 146 innings with 121 hits allowed for Double-A Mississippi. Reports indicated that he made significant improvements with his secondary pitches. In 2013 he posted a 3.22 ERA with a 77/36 K/BB in 115 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett with 123 hits allowed.
He burst onto the scene last fall with two excellent major league starts in September, resulting in 11 innings with only one run allowed and a 14/1 K/BB. He opened '14 in the big league starting rotation and made four starts but moved to the pen when Mike Minor came off the disabled list.
Over four starts and eight relief appearances in 2014, Hale has a 1.57 ERA with a 19/15 K/BB in 34.1 innings, allowing 26 hits. The ERA is pretty, but the component ratios aren't as impressive, resulting in a 3.37 FIP and a 4.52 xFIP. He's had some good luck on his side.
Hale is a 6-2, 205 pound right-hander born September 27, 1987. Like most guys who were two-way players as amateurs, Hale is a fine overall athlete. He's reworked his mechanics since college, enhancing his command (although it will still wobble occasionally). Hale was clocked as high as 94-95 MPH earlier in his career, but his fastball has settled into the 88-94 range, averaging 91 during his major league exposure thus far. His arm has less mileage on it than most 26-year-old former college pitchers. In theory he has more bullets left in the arm, but it also meant he had more to learn. He's done that and his breaking ball and changeup are greatly improved compared to where he was four years ago.
There are some sabermetric caution flags with Hale and a 1.57 ERA should not be expected all year, but he has little left to learn in the minor leagues. Going forward, he has a decent chance to be a valuable inning-eating starter or a bullpen asset who can be used in longer outings.