Padres Prospect Interview: Brandon Higelin

"I want to break camp and be on the Fort Wayne team," reliever Brandon Higelin said before the rosters were set. The left-hander was placed on the Wizards roster but the wish was granted based on hard work that occurred during the off-season.

After being drafted in the 28th round of 2005, Brandon Higelin landed with the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League.

He pitched in 22 games for the Ems, going 0-2 with a 5.00 ERA and a .342 average against. While most throw out the first year of development, Higelin knew he had to come back strong in proving he could get outs on a more consistent basis.

It started with throwing more strikes.

"My control wasn't very good last year in Eugene," Higelin admitted. "I worked very hard this off-season on throwing more strikes, being consistent with my fastball and since I have been able to do that this spring it has helped everything else."

Pitching coach Wally Whitehurst mentored Higelin in his first season with the Padres and has been instrumental in his development this spring.

One of the biggest transitions for the left-hander was pitching from the stretch. A starter in college, Higelin was moved to the bullpen when he joined the Padres system. That meant more time with runners on base.

"I started throwing in the bullpen when I got here and worked hard on being in control when I work out of the stretch," Higelin said. "It was a little bit of an adjustment period but I enjoyed the role."

The struggles of last year he attributes to mechanics. But his woes of last year were pinned with two different spells in late July and late August. He surrendered seven runs on 11 hits in one three-game span and seven runs on 14 hits in another three-game span. He gave up three earned runs in 16 other appearances combined.

Still, mechanics and trying to impress can go hand in hand.

"I don't know if it was just because of the jump (to the minors) and trying to overdue it a little bit," Higelin explained. "I think that probably had more to do with it. I think I tried to do too much and it got out of whack. It was a fight to get back. I had an off-season to work with a pitching coach and to get back to my old mechanics."

His mission this off-season not only included fine tuning his mechanics but also dropping a pitch from his arsenal and adding another.

He developed a two-seam fastball that has shown to be more conducive to getting ground ball outs and dropped his curveball entirely. That left him with a slider, a changeup and the two-seamer.

As a lefty, it was crucial that he figure out a way to get right-handed hitters out as often as lefties. The curveball used to be the pitch he threw to righties but the slider takes its place, a pitch Higelin refers to as his "best pitch."

"I am developing how to throw the slider into righties because before I threw curveballs in college but (the Padres) did not want both a curveball and a slider," said Higelin. "That was an adjustment – learning how to throw a slider to righties. When I was able to do that at the end of the year my results got better."

Nothing was handed to the left-hander. Getting a spot on a full-season roster took hard work and an honest assessment of his performance last year. A successful spring proved that he was ready for the jump from short-season ball and now Higelin sets his goals on carrying that hard work and consistency into the season.

Based on the strides he made during the winter, it is not hard to envision the success following him into Fort Wayne.

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