A look at Padres' Brandon Emanuel

When the Anaheim Angels drafted current San Diego Padres' farmhand Brandon Emanuel he was a closer. Coming out of Northwestern State College in Louisiana, Emanuel had a mid nineties fastball and a devastating curveball. Two pitches were typically more than enough for one inning of work.

But the Angels had other ideas and asked Emanuel to add a changeup and become a starter for them. While Emanuel will still occasionally throw the change, it is his third pitch, the last one he'll go to, and near the end of the 2003 campaign the Angels decided to take Emanuel back to his roots, and put him back in the bullpen.

Rich Bombard, who served as Emanuel's pitching coach at Triple-A Salt Lake in both '03 and '04 said the primary reason for the change was, the change. "He never really got the feel for the change up. He had some success with it, but being comfortable with your pitches is really key, and he just never got the feel for that third pitch."

Emanuel was signed by the Padres earlier this month and figures to enter their system where he's been most comfortable, in the pen.

Bombard thinks that will be the best place for him. "He struggled some when we asked him to start, and near the end of 2003 we moved him back into the bullpen, and he really had success there. The plan was to bring him back in the bullpen in 2004, but we had some injuries to our starters, and so he had to start last year in the rotation. It was right around the mid season mark when we got enough starters back, and that's when we moved him into the bullpen again."

For Emanuel it was a turning point, one that was noticed by his pitching coach.

"He just really seems more comfortable coming out of the pen and he excels there."

Though he will still occasionally throw the change up, Emanuel is primarily a two pitch pitcher. He locates the fastball well, and according to Bombard the curveball, "Is a pitch he can strike guys out with. It really has great, late movement."

His career stats reflect the struggles he endured in the starting rotation. During his first three years as a pro he had a record of 15-29 in 57 starts and never posted an ERA under 4.47. He missed the entire 2001 campaign due to injury but upon coming back in 2002 he had his best season as a starter in Double-A Arkansas where he went 5-3 in 14 starts with a very nice 2.81 ERA. The hot start prompted a move to Salt Lake where his numbers ballooned. He averaged less than six innings a start with Salt Lake that season and posted an ERA over seven.

The 2003 season brought more of the same for Emanuel, as he made 23 starts and finished with a 6-10 record. The problem for Emanuel was the fifth inning where he posted a startlingly high ERA of 12.31. He was getting tired, and with only minimal use of the changeup, hitters were sitting on the big curveball by their third at bat.

So Emanuel went back home, to the bullpen.

"The fact that he never really felt good about the changeup was one of the reasons we moved him to the bullpen, but it was also where he'd been most comfortable." Bombard said, "He had basically pitched his entire pro career as a starter, and never had the success that he had in college as a reliever. He's just a lot more comfortable in that role."

The change in his numbers was dramatic. As a starter in '03 his strikeout to walk ratio was just under 2 to 1, respectable, but certainly not eye opening, and hitters hit a healthy .319 against him. In '04, working the second half of the season out of the bullpen, that ratio improved to a very nice 4 to 1 while his opponent's batting average dropped a full 60 points, to .259. If there was any question as to where Emanuel was more comfortable, and more effective, it was answered by the end of the '04 season.

He's played at least portions of the last three years at the Triple-A level, and one has to assume that at 28 years old he'll either make the jump to the majors soon, or not at all. For the Padres he becomes yet another option for a bullpen that has been a focal point this off season.

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