A few days before the Major League Baseball draft last year, Baltimore Orioles director of pitcher development Rick Peterson had a conversation with longtime scout Dean Albany about a young pitcher from Millersville, Josh Hader.
"I remember Dean calling me before the draft," said Peterson, in his second year with the Orioles. "As he described [Hader], I said, 'That's the kind of profile we are looking for.' "
"I just told him there was an athletic left-handed pitcher I really liked, and we are going to have to take our time with him," Albany recalled.
That conversation played a part in Hader being drafted in the 19th round last June, and since then, the Old Mill High School graduate has done nothing to make the Orioles regret the decision. In fact, he's progressing perhaps faster than even Albany might have imagined.
Hader, who turned 19 in April, is a 6-foot-1 left-hander and was one of the youngest pitchers in the low Single-A South Atlantic League during the first half of this season.
His record is 3-2 with an earned run average of 1.94 in his first 11 starts for the Delmarva Shorebirds, based in Salisbury. He has allowed just 39 hits in 601/3 innings. Although he has given up 30 walks, he struck out 56 and held opposing hitters to an average of .186.
For his efforts Hader, the No. 13 prospect in the Orioles' system according to MLB.com, was named to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game played this week in Lakewood, N.J. In that June 18 contest, he pitched a scoreless second inning for the North Division All-Stars, who won 2-1 in seven innings. Hader didn't allow a hit and struck out two batters.
"The hard work paid off," Hader said of the All-Star appearance.
After his senior year at Old Mill — where he was 10-0 with 125 strikeouts and two no-hitters — he turned down a chance to attend Anne Arundel Community College when he signed with the Orioles.
Last June, he played with the state's high school South All-Stars in the Brooks Robinson All-Star Game at Camden Yards. He told The Baltimore Sun at the time that it was a thrill playing on the Orioles' home turf. Hader said he grew up attending games at Camden Yards.
"I used to come here all the time," he said. "My Little League team used to walk around the field."
Since then, he's been busy working with Peterson — in the instructional league last fall, at spring training in Florida and during the minor league season this year.
Albany said Hader's fastball reached about 84 to 88 mph in high school and is now up to 94-95 mph, thanks to a long toss program and working out this past winter. In a regular-season start June 14 against the Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads, he was hitting the mid-90s on the radar gun in the seventh inning — his last inning of the night
"He is teaching me what to throw and to get a good feel for pitching," Hader said of Peterson, a former coach for the New York Mets, Oakland A's and Milwaukee Brewers. "Right now, it is a matter of fine-tuning all of the pitches."
Hader's arsenal includes a fastball, a slider and a changeup.
"The fastball has been working a lot. The changeup is going along pretty well," he said of a pitch he throws about 10 percent of the time.
Last season, Hader pitched in 12 games in the Gulf Coast League in Florida and had an ERA of 2.66. He was then promoted to Aberdeen of the New-York Penn League and didn't allow a run in eight innings over two games.
He was listed at 160 pounds when he was drafted and has gained about 15 pounds since. Before this season, he worked out several days a week at Camden Yards under former Oriole outfielder and fitness guru Brady Anderson, now a special assistant with the club.
The jump from Aberdeen to Delmarva means more than facing better hitters. Hader is several years younger than many of his teammates, some of whom have played at the Division I college level. His teammates in the first half included pitcher Sander Beck, a Severn School graduate who pitched at the University of Maryland.
"You learn a lot from the older guys. It's a lot of learning," said Hader, who lives with a host family a few minutes from Perdue Stadium in Salisbury.
Peterson said Hader compares favorably to Chris Sale, a veteran major league pitcher with the Chicago White Sox.
"The one thing about Josh is he has tremendous instincts," Peterson said. "He is way more mature than his years, as far as pitching is considered.
"He has a great feel for the game," he added. "He is very self-motivated. He takes instruction during the game very well."
"He is going to get stronger and he is going to get better and he is going to mature," Albany said.
For the second half of this season after the All-Star break, Hader has a simple strategy that he hopes will move him along to Frederick, the next rung on Baltimore's minor league ladder.
"Basically the same thing I did in the first half," Hader said. "Just stay consistent, and work down in the [strike] zone with less walks."
Position: Pitcher, throws left
High school: Old Mill
Team: Delmarva Shorebirds, low Class A South Atlantic League
Statistics through June 19: Record of 3-2, with 1.94 ERA in 11 starts.Copyright © 2015, CT Now