Prospect Q&A: Brad Ziegler, SP

Midland right-hander Brad Ziegler is off to a fast start to his 2006 season. Despite having his first poor outing May 2, Ziegler still sports a 3.25 ERA through five starts. The Southwest Missouri State alumnus has had an unusual path to Midland, one that has included a stop in Schaumburg of the independent Northern League. Along the way, he has won a strikeout crown and helped his teams capture two minor league championships. We caught up with Ziegler at the start of the Midland home-stand.

Profile

Brad Ziegler has a winning streak going. In each of the past two seasons, Ziegler has joined an A's affiliate mid-season and helped that team win its respective league championship. In 2004, the A's signed Ziegler out of the independent Northern League and added him to the A-Modesto roster at the mid-point of the season. The Modesto A's would go on to win the California League championship with Ziegler as one of the team's most consistent pitchers. He won nine games in only 16 appearances (15 starts) for Modesto that year and was on the mound as the starter for the decisive game of the semi-final round of the 2004 Cal League playoffs. Unfortunately, Ziegler was struck on the forehead with a line-drive in that game and he missed the final round of the playoffs, where Modesto took home the title.

Ziegler was more fortunate in 2005, staying healthy the entire season. He began the year in A-Stockton, where he started off slowly, but finished with a Cal League-high 144 strikeouts in 141 innings. He walked only 20 batters. In mid-August, Ziegler was promoted to AA-Midland, where he helped the Rockhounds clinch the second half division title and breeze through the playoffs for their first outright Texas League title.

This season, Ziegler got off to a fast start for the Rockhounds. He went 2-0 with a 1.09 ERA in four April starts. Ziegler was touched for seven runs in three innings in his last start, which ballooned his ERA to 3.25. He allowed six homeruns in that game, a career-high.

Ziegler is one of the most successful pitchers in the history of the Southwest Missouri State baseball program. In his senior season, Ziegler led the Bears with 12 wins and threw an incredible 104 innings. He was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 20th round of the 2003 draft and was assigned to the Batavia Muckdogs of the NY-Penn League. Ziegler made only three appearances that year and the team struggled, going 30-45. Ziegler was cut the following spring by the Phillies and he signed with the independent Northern League's Schaumburg Flyers. He went 3-0 in four starts with Schaumburg before signing with the A's organization.

Ziegler is a classic sinkerball pitcher with a fastball, change-up and curveball to compliment the sinker. Throughout his career, he has had great control, averaging just over a walk and a half per nine innings coming into this season. He has walked only seven in 27.2 innings thus far this season.

OaklandClubhouse caught up with Ziegler at the start of the Rockhounds' current home-stand to get his thoughts on his career to date, his goals for the season and more…

The Interview

OC: How are you feeling on the mound so far this season?

BZ: Overall, I feel great so far. I am off to such a better start then I was last year. I think after my first three or four starts last year, my ERA was 16, so it is a good feeling to be pitching well out of the gate and to have our team playing so well right now. It makes it a lot easier to pitch well when you have a team playing as well as ours is behind you.

OC: Do you attribute your slow start last season to your recovery from the head injury in 2004?

BZ: Not really. I don't want to make excuses for my poor start last year. I didn't get to work out as much last off-season as I would have liked to [because of the injury], but I think it was more that I wasn't executing out there on the mound then anything related to the injury. It just took a little while to get going. Once July rolled around, though, everything really seemed to come together from there and I felt really good on the mound.

OC: You were the Cal League strikeout king and have always had good strikeout numbers. Do you go out there looking to rack up strikeouts?

BZ: I'm very rarely thinking about a strikeout. Only in certain situations – like when there is a runner on third and less than two-outs – does a strikeout even cross my mind until there is two strikes. Mainly, I'm focusing on getting the hitters to make bad contact and hit the ball to one of our defenders. I try to get as many groundballs as possible. I tend to get in trouble when I give up a lot of fly balls, like I did in my last start.

OC: Are you working on any of your pitches or adding a new pitch?

BZ: I like where my pitches are at right now when I throw them right. I need to get to the point where I am consistently throwing the pitches correctly and getting a feel for exactly what I need to do on each pitch. It's funny because you try to keep things the same on each pitch but you have different things you need to think about with the different pitches.

OC: Did being at AA-Midland the end of last year help you feel comfortable this season?

BZ: It was really helpful. I had good success last season in AA with the exception of one start, so I came into this season knowing that I could pitch and compete at this level and that I could be a leader on the mound.

OC: You've been a part of two championship teams now. What has that experience been like for you?

BZ: It is awesome [to win championships]. For me, the whole reason you play baseball is to win. It's no fun when you are losing. My first season in pro ball with the Phillies, I think we won 30 games or something like that. It was totally miserable to play on a losing team. It was the least fun I've ever had playing baseball.

Winning is the best, though. It's always fun to dogpile on the mound. Even though I didn't get to do that in Modesto [Ziegler was in the hospital], [then Modesto and now Midland manager] Von Hayes called me in the hospital and let me listen to the celebration on his cell phone, so I really felt like I was a part of it.

OC: What was your experience in the Northern League like and what did you learn from it?

BZ: I didn't really know if I was ever going to get back into affiliated baseball [when he went to the Northern League]. The independent leagues were really different because the guys on the team are there to play for the love of the game and not so much as a business. When I was with the Phillies, it seemed so much like a business. Even on your own team, teammates were competing against each other, it seemed like, and there wasn't as big an emphasis on the team and winning. I didn't really enjoy it at all and I questioned really whether I wanted to be a part of it long-term.

Playing in the independent leagues was all about playing for the team and having fun and it really brought the joy back for me for playing the game. The guys were talented and played hard, but they also had a lot of fun. When I got with the Oakland organization, the atmosphere was a lot different [then with the Phillies]. I joined the team right after they had clinched their first-half division title. Guys were really into winning and were very supportive of me as a new guy coming in and joining them. They were a really great group of guys.

OC: What is playing for Von Hayes like?

BZ: Playing for Von Hayes is great. You can really pick his brain about everything. He's very easy to talk to. He instills a strong competitive drive in all of us.

OC: The Texas League is known for some pretty long road-trips and you guys have only had one home-stand to date. Does the travel wear on you at all?

BZ: The travel is something you get used to. It's a little bit rough to be on the road so much in the beginning, but you know that it is going to even out by the end of the season. I think it is better to be on the road at the beginning of the year and have more time at home at the end of the season when your body is wearing down.

OC: What was the biggest adjustment you had to make from college to pro ball?

BZ: The toughest adjustment you have to make between college and pro ball is being away from friends and family. I went to college close to home so it was a big change to suddenly go from that to being alone on the road. It's a tough balance to try to combine your commitment to your family and your commitment to baseball.

OC: What is your off-season routine like?

BZ: I try to lift weights three to four times a week. I usually start playing catch after the first of the year and the A's have a really good throwing program in place to get you ready for spring training.

OC: What goals do you set for yourself in the off-season?

BZ: My first goal always is to make a team out of spring training. Since I am a free agent every year, that is the primary concern. After that, I am just working towards being consistent every time on the mound and giving my team a good effort and a chance to win.

That is what is so frustrating about a start like my last one. I felt really good coming into the game, but when you give up six homers, there is nothing that your defense can do to help you out. When you score eight runs, you should win the game, so it's tough to lose a game like that and know that it is mostly my fault. I want always to keep the team close and in the game.


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