Mesa, Arizona —— On Wednesday afternoon at Sloan Park in Mesa, I observed Milwaukee Brewers right-handed pitcher Adrian Houser starting an Arizona Fall League game for Salt River. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the righty recently; Houser, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery after reaching the big leagues briefly back in 2015, pitched in the Arizona League this summer on an injury rehab assignment.
But now, under the metaphorical bright lights of the AFL, I got the ever-valuable second look at the big leaguer on his road to recovery, and I really, really liked what I saw. Here’s the video of Adrian Houser’s Wednesday outing — watch before I contextualize it with my notes, so you can see him work for yourself:
And here, as a comparison, is the video of Adrian Houser starting for the AZL affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers two months prior, on August 14th at Maryvale:
Now, back to Wednesday in the AFL…
Adrian Houser sat 94-96 mph with his four-seam fastball, twice touching 97 mph on my gun. That’s a big fastball with some natural run, and he pairs it with a complementary two-seamer that sits 91-93 mph. The two-seamer has more distinct arm-side life — sink and run that’s particularly late and lively to his arm-side. The righty also showed off a hard 85-87 mph straight changeup, and a very sharp 81-83 mph curveball with 11-to-5 break.
Early in his outing, Adrian Houser struggled to command the curveball, particularly against right-handed hitters, but by the end, the Milwaukee Brewers righty got everything in sync and threw several devastating breaking balls. (If you want to see a good hammer, watch the very last pitch Houser throws on that video — a two-strike hook to Detroit Tigers prospect Cam Gibson.)
I don’t think it’s particularly unnatural for Houser to struggle for feel and command right now — especially with a pitch like a power curve that requires him to get so far out in front on and be so quick with arm speed. To me, it’s pretty normal post-Tommy John to see a guy take time to figure out a game-speed release point, target, and hand position. Consistency will come and, barring some unforeseen setback, I believe Houser will fight for a big league gig with the Milwaukee Brewers in spring training. If I’m the Brewers, I probably don’t expect a ton next season from him in the big leagues, but there’s a shot they may be pleasantly surprised by his comeback.
Beyond that, I really, really like the way Adrian Houser pitches. I’m not ready to make a judgment on how his 2018 might go, but between my look in August and this one at the AFL, his curveball is really, really impressive. I like the way he attacks hitters, and he has the arm strength to back up his bulldog tendencies when he challenges out over the plate with heat.
It’s one thing to have career-threatening surgery early in the minors, and take a year off along the path, or to get up to the big leagues and establish yourself before losing a year to the procedure. But to suffer an injury with only the smallest taste of the big leagues— never knowing if you’ll get back, not established enough to build a reputation, trying to navigate the long recovery road with a lot of lonely, monotonous hours of physical therapy — is daunting.
There’s never a good time to get injured, but suffering surgery literally on the doorstep of a big league dream is a particularly bad point, I think, and Adrian Houser did just that, with all two innings of big league experience coming more than two calendar years ago. But after months of anonymous rehab and backfield bullpens, he’s flashing a mid-90s fastball in the Arizona Fall League and suddenly, the light at the end of the tunnel begins to show. From the outside looking in, it seems like Adrian Houser could return to Miller Park — perhaps for good — in 2018.