Name: Aaron Breit
DOB: April 19, 1986
Entering the system as a draft-and-follow, Breit posted a 3.08 ERA across 64.1 innings during his professional debut with the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League.
A year later, troubles began. In 31 games, including 21 starts, the right-hander went 3-11 with a 6.73 ERA – giving up 139 hits in 108.1 innings of work for Low-A Fort Wayne.
Returning to Fort Wayne for a second season in 2008, Breit again struggled with command and confidence after elbow surgery during the off-season.
In five starts with the Fort Wayne Wizards, Breit went 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA – walking more batters (11) than he struck out (9). In 22 relief appearances, the Kansas native went 3-3 with a 4.75 ERA – striking out 37 in 30.1 innings but allowing 36 hits. He finished the season with a 5.57 ERA and .293 average against, as hitters batted .318 off him with runners in scoring position.
"There was a lot of self doubt in his stuff," Lake Elsinore pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "The way he pitched. When I saw him last year, he came back too extended, he was choking the life out of the ball. He was squeezing it so tight. There was so much tension in his hand that the life just wasn't there in the ball so we got him to loosen up the grip and throw with a lighter hand. It was tough to do. Then talk to him about the mechanics and why they break down and this and why he's cutting the ball of from the stretch. He cleaned those things up.
"All of a sudden, when he went back to Fort Wayne last year, he had great success with it. Then it was off and on, off and on, come and go. Now that he's starting to understand that on an everyday basis, where his hands need to be, how the arm comes through, how the body functions, his fastball has been tremendous and his curveball has got great bite. He'll still have games where he'll pitch well, then all of a sudden come out of the stretch and start to collapse the backside, and the ball flattens out and he'll get hit."
Seen as a pitcher with immense potential, the 23-year-old fell into the ‘too much of the plate' syndrome. While he flashed plus stuff during his first three years in the system, his fastball was meeting the meat of a hitters' bat when it crossed the middle of the plate.
One point of contention that Breit has overcome was an inclination to hold the ball to tight – gripping it like a vice. That caused him to lose movement on his pitches and sacrifice location.
The 2009 season began with Breit again in the bullpen – this time for the Lake Elsinore Storm. He made 27 appearances out of the ‘pen, posting a 0-2 record and a solid 3.07 ERA. He allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and struck out 46 in 41 innings.
Breit was then moved back to the starting rotation. The right-hander made 13 starts for the Storm, going 2-4 with a 3.78 ERA. He allowed 69 hits and 30 walks in 66.2 innings while striking out 64. Those numbers were a bit skewed, as he allowed 11 hits and seven runs in his final start, pushing his ERA as a starter up from 3.16. Breit allowed two runs or less in nine of his outings and struck out 10 twice over that stretch.
Holding the opposition to a .229 average with runners in scoring position was a big plus and helped him to avoid the big inning. His walk totals were a bit high for a starter, a result of occasionally nibbling.
"Overall from last year to this year, if you look at the difference, he's made tremendous leaps in pitchability," Rajsich said. "He still has those lapses but not like he did before and the confidence is coming with maturity. A lot like (Cory) Luebke. Now, they're understanding that the world is not caving in around them. They have pitches that they can get out with."
Breit throws a fastball in the low-90s with movement. In the past, he often hit too much of the plate with his heater. He has improved its location over the last year but will get into trouble when he tries to be too fine – hitting just outside the zone where hitters will lay off. He can dial it up to 94 mph and his natural movement will produce ground ball outs as hitters swing over top of the pitch.
The Kansas native was able to limit left-handed hitters – who he faced more than righties – to a .218 average. The success against left-handers had to do with a plus curveball that he used to keep them off-balance. Its 12-to-6 action is among the best in the system. When he controls the pitch, Breit is very tough to hit. When the pitch hangs, often because of a failure to follow-through on his motion, it can be taken deep.
The changeup, a pitch he has struggled to find, would have been a key element in slowing right-handed hitters and their .292 average against. Giving right-handers something that goes the other way on the outside corner will be essential to his development. He still throws the pitch too hard and does not have the feel to throw it consistently.
"He's a tall kid that throws the 90s, nice curveball," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "It's just a matter of experience and getting him innings and learning how to win games. He has a low ERA and he got some losses, but he just needs to learn what it takes to win games and then he'll be fine."
Breit's confidence has improved tremendously over the last year. With that under wraps and the mental side of the game not as big a barrier, Breit can again focus on improving the command of his pitches and the changeup. No one ever questioned his mental toughness during the process, and he proved the Padres right by battling through.
An area that showed drastic improvement was keeping runners close. In previous seasons, Breit did not seem to care about holding runners. While runners were still successful taking an extra base, they did not do it with the frequency of other seasons. Breit attributed that to more comfort on the mound and being a tad quicker to the plate.
"He's got such great stuff and he always manages to just pitch good enough to lose, and it's like, ‘How do we get him to get over this edge and get over that edge of just pitching,'" Rajsich said. "He can pitch behind all day long, 1-0. You give him a lead and he gives it right back. You give him a lead and he gives it right back. I don't know if it's concentration or he now he's trying to protect it, but he's got such great stuff. His record doesn't show how good he is, and his last game of course it kind of skewed his stats, but you should look at his overall stats going into last game, he was one of the best pitchers we had all year, as a middle reliever and as a starter."
Conclusion: Failure is a huge part of the game and Breit proved he can battle through the tough times. His value, however, depends on the changeup – a pitch that has not been refined over the last three years. If he can make his changeup a quality pitch, Breit's outlook improves. The stuff has always been there but bringing it on a consistent basis has been lacking. The coming year will tell a lot about his future. Will the adjustments come quick or take another step sideways or backwards?
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