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Mitch Brown Adapting To New Role as a Reliever

Mitch Brown has had a roller coaster ride of a professional career up to this point going from being a second-round pick with high upside to fighting a hard battle with inconsistency to finding new life in the bullpen. The IBI's Daniel Sherriff looks into how the right-hander's new role has helped him rediscover his effectiveness as a pitcher.

Mitch Brown didn’t know a whole lot during the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft.  He knew he had a great shot at being drafted, he would probably be drafted high and would go in the first ten rounds of the draft.  A lot of teams wanted the young right-hander out of Century High School in Rochester, Minnesota.  It ended up being the Cleveland Indians whom took a flier on the righty by selecting him in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft.

“I came out in my first start in Minnesota on a pretty cold day and had one of the better outings that I’ve had up to that point and the stuff was good.  I just remember after the outing my advisor at the time had just called me and was real excited about the possibility of being taken in the first few rounds,” the Century High School alum recalled

Leading up to the draft, Brown still had a lot of questions that weren’t being answered.  He had no idea which team would end up calling his name at the draft nor did he really know when he would be drafted.  Despite the talk of him going early there was no way to feel 100% confident until his name was actually called.  In the end the talk of him going high ended up being true as the Indians called his name.

“It’s been a lot of fun.  It’s been a big learning curve, but I’ve been blessed to have a lot of people who care in this organization about each individual player and have invested a lot of time and energy into making me a better player and I really don’t think there’s a better organization for me to be in,” smiled the right-hander.

Upon being drafted the Indians set Brown right to work.  He immediately started throwing in the Arizona Rookie League.  The early results were promising as he posted a respectable 3.58 ERA across 27.2 innings of work with an 8.5 SO/9 ratio.  The right-hander was showing promising stuff and the ability to miss bats at a consistent rate as he held a sizzling 23.2% K rate in his first season in the minor leagues.

He once again started out in the AZL league in 2013 and saw slightly different results as his ERA rose significantly to a 5.37, but the Indians still promoted him to Class A Lake County the same year in order to further challenge him.  His first taste of Class-A ball saw him quickly learn the different between the Rookie league and Class-A.  On only five starts he was hit hard for a 12.06 ERA on only 15.2 innings of work not to mention an alarming 13.8% walk ratio.  He still had a lot of work to do.

The next season saw Brown get adjusted to the league and post better numbers.  He threw a 3.32 ERA across 138.1 innings of work through 27 games started and lowered his walk rate to just 9.8% while still keeping his K rate high with an impressive 22.2%.  He was slowly but surely making his way up the ladder as one the top pitching prospects in the organization.

He then received the bump up the High-A Lynchburg in 2014 and his story took an ugly turn.  He tossed a 5.15 ERA through 26 games started in 141.2 innings of work while increasing his walk rate to 12.3% and lowering his K rate significantly to just 17.4%.  It was still his first full season in High-A so perhaps another season of work there would help get him properly adjusted.

Things didn’t look to be getting much better in 2016 when he again started the season in Lynchburg.  Throughout his first 18 starts he held a 5.56 ERA in just 77.2 innings and walked 60 batters in that span.  Despite his early success, the right-hander was not showing the necessary improvements the Indians were hoping for.  Even Brown was beginning to have his own doubts.

“Last year was kind of a trying year for me," he said, "I scuffled a little bit out of the gate and was kind of starting to wonder what my role was and (Mark) Budzinski called me into the office one day and just told me they were gonna move me to bullpen and that they thought my stuff was gonna play extremely well in the bullpen and the transition was, to be honest, pretty easy.  Just going in with my aggressive mentality and just trying to go after guys with my best stuff.”

While it may have been a bit disappointing for the 2nd round draft pick to be bumped to the bullpen, it was a challenge he was more than up for and was able to tackle it head on.  All of a sudden he posted a 3.05 ERA in 20.2 innings out of the bullpen in 18 games while striking out 36 batters in compared to walking just 17 batters in that frame.  All of the sudden Brown had a new role and he was taking to it like a champ.

“I know the adjustments that he has to make going forward is like any guy that goes from the rotation to the bullpen is just understanding that there’s chances for you to pitch every day,” noted Akron RubberDucks pitching coach Tony Arnold.

The Indians are hopeful that the righty can continue to excel in this new pitching role.  He certainly has the swing-and-miss stuff a team wants to see from a late-inning reliever.  Brown’s biggest challenge is his ability to consistently command his pitches and not become wild.  That’s something he’s battled throughout his entire time in the organization.  There is a lot of confidence he can succeed though

“There’s no doubt that if he comes in and can command his stuff that he has that he can be successful,” declared Arnold.

There’s still work to be done for Brown.  So far his first few outings at the Double-A level have shown a need for improvement.  He’s thrown only 3.1 innings but has 8.10 ERA and is once again battling control issues as he’s issued six free passes.  He’s shown that when he can command his pitches he can be a dominant reliever.  It’s just a matter of being able to demonstrate that command at a consistent level.  If he can do that, there’s a bright future for him as key reliever in the Indians organization.

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