The Brewers acquired hard-throwing lefty DL Hall alongside infielder Joey Ortiz from the Orioles in last week’s Corbin Burnes blockbuster. While GM Matt Arnold was noncommittal about Hall’s role in a chat with reporters in the immediate aftermath of the trade, the 25-year-old indicated the organization views him as a starting pitcher.
“When they called me, they asked me how my training had been going, what I was preparing for. Luckily, I was preparing to be a starter. They want me to be a starter,” Hall said in an appearance on Foul Territory yesterday afternoon (YouTube link).
That the Brewers still view Hall as a rotation fit isn’t surprising. If Milwaukee felt the 6’2″ southpaw was unlikely to stick as a starter, they might not have made him one of two key pieces in a return for their ace. That’s not a unanimous opinion among evaluators, however. Some scouting reports on Hall indicate he’s a better fit for the bullpen because of well below-average control.
Over parts of six seasons in the minors, Hall has walked 13.4% of opposing hitters. He handed out free passes at a similarly concerning 13.8% clip over 49 innings for Triple-A Norfolk a year ago. Hall worked in an abbreviated starting capacity early in the Triple-A season, typically going four to five innings in an appearance. He pitched in a traditional single-inning relief role there late in the year, aligning with his usage at the MLB level.
Other than a 3 2/3-inning start in his major league debut in August 2022, Hall has pitched exclusively as a reliever in the majors. He has a 4.36 ERA in 29 appearances, striking out 29% of batters faced. The former first-round pick has shown better control in that limited big league sample, walking a league average 7.6% of his opponents.
Expecting Hall to maintain a sub-8% walk rate over a full season as a starter is likely too optimistic given his minor league numbers. He will very likely need to cut his walks from the minor league levels if he’s to stick as a starter. Only two MLB pitchers logged at least 100 innings while walking more than 13% of opponents a year ago.
One of them, Blake Snell, won the Cy Young, so it’s not impossible to thrive with this kind of scattershot control. It requires absolutely dominating hitters when the pitcher is around the strike zone, though, with Snell fanning over 31% of opponents and holding batters to a pitiful .180 average. (The other pitcher with 100+ innings and a walk rate above 13% was Michael Kopech, who had a 5.43 ERA.) Hall is credited by prospect evaluators with as many as four plus or better pitches. He has the potential to overpower opponents, but he’d have to walk a very tight rope if he doesn’t get the free passes in check.
It’s worth noting that Hall’s comments about competing for a rotation spot came before Milwaukee agreed to a $7MM deal with free agent righty Jakob Junis last night. Even with Junis expected to take a season-opening rotation spot, it’s unlikely Milwaukee’s usage plans for Hall are any different. The Brewers still have one or two jobs up for grabs behind Freddy Peralta, Junis, and Wade Miley. Hall joins righties Colin Rea and Joe Ross and southpaws Aaron Ashby and Robert Gasser in that competition. Prospects Carlos Rodriguez and Jacob Misiorowski could pitch their way into the mix during the season.
Hall still has one option year remaining. The Brewers can move him between Milwaukee and Triple-A Nashville for another season if he doesn’t stake a claim to a permanent rotation role on Opening Day.