DL Hall is tired of hearing about his command.
A left-handed pitcher with a dynamic repertoire, Hall, 23, is the top-ranked prospect on the Orioles’ 40-man roster. After a stress reaction in his pitching elbow — which he says was a minor break that has since fully healed — Hall hasn’t racked up many innings in the minor leagues. But that doesn’t mean he’s far from arriving in Baltimore.
“I think if he launches strikes, he’s pretty close to being big league ready,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said last week. “We might see this guy in the big leagues this year, and we might see him soon if it’s the right thing to do.”
Hall pitched just 31 ⅔ innings for Double-A Bowie in 2021 before the elbow injury ended his season, but he’s put up impressive numbers in his seven starts, striking out 43.8% of batters he faced with a 60.4% rushing ball rate and 3.13 ERA. His 12.5% walk rate was an improvement over what he put up in Minor League Baseball’s previous season in 2019, but still one of the highest in the Baltimore system among pitchers who have made at least five starts.
Hall agreed with Elias’ assessment of his closeness to the majors. But the Orioles’ No. 3 prospect believes what separates him from getting there is health, not leadership.
“It gets tiring hearing about throwing strikes because I don’t think it’s something I struggle with,” Hall said. “I think I chase strikeouts more than people on foot. I think if I wasn’t chasing strikeouts so much, I wouldn’t be walking so much.
“I think it’s an easier fix than people think, just to get into the zone. But I will show it.
Hall said he challenges himself in games, emphasizing pitches that will take out major-league hitters rather than the minor-league hitters he faces. While he thinks other minor league pitchers might pick a pitch they know can throw for a hit in certain situations, Hall said he sees those times as opportunities for growth, sometimes resulting in walks.
“I would rather enjoy this learning experience than just be comfortable,” he said.
After his injury, he spent this offseason tweaking his body and mechanics, focusing on location rather than speed. Hall was supposed to come to Florida in January with other players who had been injured the previous year, but he was unable to participate in team activities during Major League Baseball’s 99-day lockout because he was added to the roster of 40 players in November.
As the work stoppage stretched into March, Hall stayed home as unregistered minor leaguers arrived for camp. That made the group text he shares with receiver Adley Rutschman and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, the two system prospects ranked ahead of him, unbearable.
“They were sending pictures and texting and stuff here, ‘Who wants to go to dinner, blah, blah, blah,'” Hall said. “And I’m like, ‘God, I wish I wasn’t sitting here at home. Grayson was always texting me like “Sit down [butt] back on the couch. “
With Hall being the Orioles’ first-round pick in 2017 and Rodriguez their top pick a year later, the two pitchers had a competitive friendship, a friendship that blossomed when they spent 2020 together at the site of alternative training.
“He’s a dog,” said Rodriguez, baseball’s top pitcher. “He’s a competitor. I like being around somebody who’s going to make me better, and that’s him. We like going out there and competing, whether it’s who has the most strikeouts in a week, in a match or who throws the hardest or whatever. We have little competitions, we go back and forth with each other, but it’s just an animal.
The two often discuss the possibility of sharing a rotation in Baltimore, which could be the case as soon as this summer. Rodriguez made his Grapefruit League debut on Monday, while Hall’s work in camp so far has been on the backcourts of Ed Smith Stadium. At a bullpen last week, he was still working to get a feel for his fastball, with the offer having an atypical cutting motion.
“It’s mean, but it’s not on purpose,” Hall later said with a laugh, “so I can’t do that.”
Batters who faced him in a live batting practice were impressed afterwards, as was Brett Cumberland, who caught him. Hall being a left-handed starter with a fastball that sits in the upper 90s and can climb over it makes him unique, Cumberland said. But his willingness to throw his other pitches in any count also explains why he’s made it to a handful of prospect lists this offseason despite his limited time on the field in 2021.
“I think all the hype is warranted,” infielder Jahmai Jones said.
That’s what Hall wants to show this season, whether it’s Double-A Bowie or Triple-A Norfolk. He is delighted to finally have the chance to build on last season.
“I really feel like I showed the real me,” Hall said. “I felt like the year before, in 2019, the last season we played, my steps were high and I feel like I’m not really showing the real DL Hall on the mound. I felt like last year I was really showing up, and it had to come to a halt.
“I think I’m ready for the next challenge, whatever it is.”