There have only been 39 men born in Utah that have reached the Major Leagues, and they combined for only one total All-Star Game appearance. Brady Lail wants to be the 40th player to accomplish the feat. If the season he's putting together this year is any indication, he's got a very good shot.
Lail, as a member of the Double-A Trenton Thunder, pitches in the same league as such prospect luminaries as Pittsburgh's Tyler Glasnow, Toronto's Jeff Hoffman, Washington's Lucas Giolito, Philadelphia's Zach Eflin, and the Mets' Michael Fulmer. It's easy to get lost in the shuffle, even after the promotions of Aaron Nola and former teammate Luis Severino (Hoffman and Giolito were recently promoted from A-ball, so it's all a wash). Lail entered the year frequently named as a sleeper of sorts in the Yankees system. Then after one start in A-ball, Lail made the jump to Trenton and has dominated. In 100 1/3 innings, he's pitched to a 2.24 ERA, 3.02 FIP, and earned a berth in the Eastern League All-Star Game. He's done all of this at age 21. It's easy to gloss over Lail because of his low strikeout rate (he's struck out just 5.5 batters per nine innings), but one would be remiss to dismiss him.
When asked about the strides that Lail has made this year, Trenton pitching coach Jose Rosado referred to him as a "pitching coach's dream." Rosado likes having a "guy that can compete who's always going to give you 100%, who'll never quit. When you see that in a pitcher, he's going to improve every day." Manager Al Pedrique said that Lail's consistency with his fastball is the only thing he has left to prove at this level, as he has a tendency to elevate the pitch and "at a higher level, they won't miss that." But a bit of adrenaline and overthrowing isn't surprising from a 21-year old, and Lail himself acknowledges this point.
"When I came up here, I kind of struggled because I thought I needed to throw harder and I thought I needed to make my curveball and other pitches nastier," he said of his introduction to Double-A baseball. "Once I started clicking and realizing I needed to get back to what kind of pitcher I really am, to get ahead of guys and get them to ground out to save my arm and save my bullets... it's just going out there and not trying to do too much." Lail seems to have found a winning formula by pitching to contact this way, and strikeouts may end up working their way into his repertoire as he fills out more and his fastball gains a little bit more zip. Yet realizing that he couldn't lean on strikeouts as a professional was jarring at first, according to Lail.
"Utah high school baseball, it's nothing special. If you had a decent fastball around 85-86 (MPH) with a curveball, you're striking people out. So it was a big adjustment to go into pro ball and not be able to get eight or nine strikeouts per game like I would able to in high school." Baseball wasn't his primary focus in high school, either. Lail attended Bingham High School, where he played quarterback for the school's nationally renowned football program. Because of football, Lail didn't go to the endless slough of showcases that many promising amateurs parade through. However, he credits Dave Peck, Bingham's football coach, for a good deal of his development as an athlete. It was a fateful journey to a Las Vegas tryout which resulted in an invitation to a Perfect Game-sponsored showcase in Ft. Myers that helped thrust him onto the scene as a legitimate prospect. The Yankees took Lail in the 18th round of the 2012 draft, and now he's knocking on the door of Triple-A.
It's unlikely that Lail surfaces in the big leagues before May of next year, and even that may be a bit early. However, he's more polished than some of the older pitchers in the Eastern League, and when all is said and done, Lail will be a complete starting pitcher. He's not Luis Severino, and that's okay. Yet Lail is indisputably one of the best pitchers in the Eastern League this year. He fired a rare complete game shutout on Saturday night, and looked every bit the part of a legitimate big leaguer. It might be tempting to overlook someone like Lail, but he should not be forgotten.
Nicolas Stellini is a staff writer at Pinstripe Alley, where he writes about the Yankees and covers the Double-A Trenton Thunder. His national coverage can be found at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.