Coming out of high school, Sam Bragg had the option of signing with the University of Georgia and playing SEC ball for three seasons. Instead, Bragg opted to keep his options open by attending Georgia Perimeter College, a junior-college school. Playing junior college baseball allowed Bragg to sign with a pro team a year earlier than he would have been able to had he gone to a four-year school.
The 20-year old sophomore's name was called by the Oakland A's in the 18th round of this June's draft, and he signed relatively quickly for a player with some leverage.
"The draft was a frustrating time," Bragg said. "I was definitely expecting to go a lot higher than I did. Everything works out for a reason. I'm pretty happy with the situation I got placed in. The A's were a big team in on me all year and I was good friends with the A's scout [Jemel Spearman] in my area.
"I had a pretty good idea the A's would take me. It was also a money thing. I was trying to get a lot early and it ended up causing me to slide a little. But it happens. I had a commitment to Auburn and if the draft didn't work out, I was going to be playing in the SEC next year. I definitely wanted to sign and they gave me a good bit of money."
The rest is history for Bragg, who put the experience behind him and spent most of his summer as a member of the Vermont Lake Monsters bullpen in the short-season New York-Penn League.
Although he was a starter for his two years of junior college ball, Bragg was on a strict inning-limit due to a heavy college workload. The right-hander said he has pitched nearly 200 total innings this season.
The 6'2'' right-hander flourished in the closer's role, allowing just four earned runs on 16 hits in 19.2 innings. He struck out 20 and walked nine, while closing out five Vermont victories.
"It was a little different, but I enjoyed it," Bragg said. "There was an adrenaline rush coming out of the bullpen like that."
Towards the end of Vermont's season, Bragg was summoned to Beloit in time for the Midwest League playoffs.
He made a pair of scoreless one-inning appearances for the Snappers, striking out three and walking none. He figures to play a key role in the post-season for Beloit, and he pitched a scoreless inning in the Snappers' Game Two win on Thursday.
"We were looking to use him a lot down the stretch," Beloit manager Ryan Christensen said. "He reminds me a little bit of [fellow minor-league reliever] Ryan Dull, in that he throws a lot of strikes which is what I really like about him.
"He threw all of his pitches for strikes through one inning each time out. I'm not sure if he even threw 10 pitches in either of his outings, so that tells me he's challenging hitters. He's telling them ‘here it is - I'm going to come right after you in the strike zone.' I love the aggressive mindset and the fact he can get it in the 'zone."
While the game itself isn't much different than the one he played at a small junior college, Bragg said he's adapting to the different level of hitters in pro ball.
"I've learned a lot going to three levels this year and had some great coaches along the way," Bragg said. "I haven't done anything a whole lot different than college ball so far. They're better hitters and you need to make better pitchers, be smarter and work ahead of every better. You don't want to get down in the count or make mistakes.
"Hitters also have a better eye and know how to lay off pitches. If it's an 0-2 count and you throw them a curveball in the dirt, they'll lay off of it. They know how to wait on their pitch."
Bragg currently throws two- and four-seam fastballs, with velocity that runs into the mid-90s. He mixes in a circle change-up and curveball, and says the change may be his best pitch.
He's learned to make the best of his short stints on the mound and is able to pick and choose what he throws in any given outing.
"How I feel in warm-ups will tell me what's working and if there's a pitch I can't throw, so I'll let the catcher know what I'm throwing," he said.
Preparing for a move back into a starting rotation somewhere next spring, Bragg will be focused on sharpening up his secondary pitches in the off-season. He'll head to the A's Instructional League this month.
"I need to work on my curveball a little bit," he said. "I can locate my fastball and change-up pretty well and have a good feel. My mechanics are pretty smooth, so I won't really be looking to change much of that."