This time last year, Josh Hader was dominating prep hitters at Old Mill High School in Millersville, Md. His fastball was sitting around 85 mph, and while he was extraordinarily effective, Major League scouts weren't exactly flying down nearby I-97 just to catch a glimpse.
On Monday, the left-hander made his first professional start, and he shut down one of the South Atlantic League's hottest lineups. The Orioles' No. 13 prospect worked 89 to 94 mph with his fastball, allowing one hit and one unearned run over six innings in Delmarva's 6-4 win over Kannapolis. He needed just 65 pitches.
The Intimidators entered averaging 6.75 runs per game through their first four contests, and feature mostly players at least two or three years older than Hader. And yet the hurler, who turned 19 on Sunday, struck out six and retired the final 16 batters he faced.
"I felt good," Hader said. "I had a good pace going, good tempo. I was able to get ahead, which helped me. I was able to throw inside and work low. I worked mostly off my fastball, felt like I had good command and threw a few sliders and changeups."
The Orioles selected Hader in the 19th round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, and the 6-foot-3 pitcher rocketed up prospect charts by working up to 94 mph in 17 relief appearances across the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues.
There wasn't some quick fix that led to the velocity spike -- just some old-fashioned hard work.
"I was definitely long-tossing a lot more," Hader said. "In high school we did long toss, but we do a lot more of it here with the Orioles. We do it every day. I'm pretty much throwing the same. I'm just long-tossing every day."
Hader graduated high school weighing about 160 pounds, and one of his tasks entering his first full season is to prove he has the strength to hold his new-found velocity deep into games. Working out with the Orioles, he's added about 15 pounds, mostly in his lower body, to aid that effort.
Delmarva manager Luis Pujols sees plenty of room for growth too.
"He's definitely going to get bigger, going to get stronger," the former MLB catcher said. "He's got plenty of size and room to add more pounds.
"At this level, he just needs to stay healthy and keep pitching. The more innings he pitches, the more he'll learn and the more he'll develop. I have no doubt. I really like his delivery. The key is to stay healthy."
Pujols was most impressed with how well the left-hander was able to work his fastball in on right-handed hitters. He described his heater as having "a little tail," which helped him induce eight groundouts.
"I hadn't heard a lot about him because I hadn't spent much time with the pitchers," said the first-year Shorebirds skipper. "I had heard his fastball was higher compared to last year when he first signed. I saw that tonight. His fastball can get to right-handed hitters pretty good."
Matthew Hobgood, the Orioles' 2009 first-round Draft pick who missed all of 2012 following rotator cuff surgery, relieved Hader with two scoreless innings. Adrian Marin led the team offensively with three hits, including a double.