Name: Brandon Higelin
DOB: April 8, 1983
Over his first 16 appearances with the Fort Wayne Wizards, Higelin allowed an earned run in just one game. He sported a 1.33 ERA over his first 20 games with a .168 average against over 27 frames.
The left-hander hit a brief period of ineffectiveness in July, giving up seven earned in 14.1 innings for a 4.40 ERA before settling down and posting a 2.10 ERA the rest of the way.
It was his consistent effort that had then manager Randy Ready tossing him out there as often as possible and earned him a spot on the Midwest League All-Star team – rare for a middle relief prospect.
The California native was downright stingy with runners in scoring position, yielding just ten hits in 69 at bats for a slim .145 average against. And he allowed just two hits in 11 at bats with the bases loaded, striking out five.
"Higgy had a pretty consistent year," 2006 Fort Wayne manager Randy Ready said. "If you talk to any successful club the bullpen makes or breaks you."
Higelin was particularly effective against left-handed hitters. The port-sider held them in check at a .185 clip – while righties batted .274 off him.
"Higgy pitched well," said 2006 Fort Wayne pitching coach Tom Bradley. "He was also very durable. He can get right-handers and left-handers out. He has three pitches – his fastball runs down and away to right-handers, his slider is effective against left-handed hitters and his changeup he can use against right-handed hitters down and away."
Batters had trouble getting good wood on his pitches – shipping 12 of 60 hits into the gaps or out of the park for extra base hits.
When his stuff was on, Higelin was inducing ground ball outs to all parts of the infield and very few found a hole. As his ball was elevated, hitters were able to hit sharp liners – more often than not up the middle of the field.
While he does not have the fastball that his strikeout numbers would suggest, 62 in 67 innings, he does have a formula and sports four pitches he can throw for strikes.
Higelin features a two-seam fastball that tails down and away to right-handers and back into the heels of a left-hander. Its movement down in the zone allows for a lot of balls hit into the dirt – acting more like a changeup.
Specific to lefties, Higelin relies heavily upon his slider as an out pitch – getting them to chase the ball as it tails over the outside corner of the plate, thus using both sides effectively.
He also has a true changeup that he throws but needs to refine its command and work it in more against right-handers to keep them off-balance.
His four-seam fastball sits in the mid-80s and the hope is his continued work on refining his mechanics, something he spent most of last off-season doing, will add a few ticks to his heater.
"It is unusual for a reliever to come in and throw more than two pitches," Bradley admitted. "Usually relievers are power guys or they have a real good breaking ball but he has three weapons he can get hitters out with."
One thing he does have, though, is smarts. He understands how to setup a hitter and get them fooled with his assortment of pitches.
His mechanics have also improved and he is getting better extension and staying on top of the ball, generating more movement as a result.
He has a good move to first base and keeps the runners close to the bag. Only three players even tried to steal off the southpaw – the same amount of players he picked off.
The one concern with Higelin is whether he can maintain hitting his spots as he moves up the chain. With a less than average fastball, he can't afford to touch too much of the plate or the opposition may feast.
ETA: Higelin was the hot hand last year and received ample innings. He moves up to a tough California League where he will have to keep the ball down to get ground ball outs and work the corners. If he can pass this test, his future is less cloudy.