Name: Jake Brigham
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: February 10, 1988
Acquired: 2006 Amateur Draft, 6th round
Hard-throwing righty Jake Brigham appeared to be primed for a breakout campaign after his impressive performance in Spring Training last year. He looked like one of the system's top pitchers, flashing plus stuff and strong command.
But it didn't take long for the shine of a strong camp to wear off. Opening the season at High-A Bakersfield, Brigham was rocked by the California League competition. The prospect posted a 6.93 earned-run average over 49.1 innings. He gave up 67 hits while walking 26 and striking out 39.
Following his slow start, the Rangers sent Brigham back to Single-A Hickory, where he began having some success, logging a 3.36 ERA and surrendering only 66 hits in 83 frames.
Brigham tossed two complete-game gems with the Crawdads, including an August 10 outing at Greensboro that made national minor league headlines. After surrendering singles to the game's first two batters, Brigham induced a line-drive double play. He then went on to retire the final 26 batters of the game. In all, it was a two-hit shutout with zero walks and a career-high 12 punchouts.
Although he was pitching at a lower level, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound pitcher was beginning to produce the strong results to match his excellent raw talent.
In the past, Brigham's fastball command has been loose within the strike zone. And despite his plus velocity, opponents hit him at a .333 clip in Bakersfield last season. Brigham did a better job of commanding his fastball down in the zone with the Crawdads.
Not only was he getting ahead of hitters more consistently, but he also induced nearly 2.3 groundouts per flyout.
"I'm down in the zone," Brigham said during his time with Hickory last summer. "I'm throwing quality strikes. I'm getting ahead of hitters. I'm putting them in swing mode by filling up the zone, which I wasn't doing in Bakersfield.
"Now I've been working a lot on filling up the zone and staying down in the zone. That's where the ground ball results are coming from."
Brigham's ability to command his fastball in Low-A led to lower pitch counts and let him work deeper into games. While he averaged just 4.7 innings per start with Bakersfield, that number jumped up to 6.4 frames per outing in Hickory.
The Orlando native also began to get more strikeouts as the summer progressed. Overall, he fanned 67 batters in 83 innings. But over his final seven starts, he struck out 51 in 46.2 frames.
In addition to improving his fastball command, Brigham introduced a slider into his repertoire. He began relying on the pitch down the stretch, and it was certainly a factor in the increased strikeout rate.
"(Adding a slider) was a decision that myself, Mark Connor, and Danny Clark came together on," said Brad Holman, Brigham's pitching coach with Hickory last season. "The concern is that, when Jake falls into those even counts or behind in the count, he wasn't able to command his curveball and changeup well enough. As a result, he was having to give in with the fastball. So the slider is an easier pitch to command than the curveball."
Brigham's fastball and curveball have shown plus potential with the ability to miss bats at times. Holman believes the addition of the slider will help strengthen both offerings.
"He also has a very, very good arm and a live fastball," Holman said. "The slider is kind of a pitch that works off the fastball a bit. It's hard to pick up––it's hard to detect from a hitter's standpoint.
"It has just given him an option––a go-to pitch––in any situation, whether it be behind in the count for a strike or ahead in the count for a put-away. And that pitch has been successful to right-handers and left-handers."
The versatility Brigham's slider offers appeared to be key late last season. In part because his changeup hasn't proven to be a consistent weapon against southpaws, they hammered him at a .368/.430/.604 clip in High-A. With Hickory, the line dropped to .176/.259/.275.
As Brigham found that his slider could benefit his overall arsenal, he began to use it more often than the curveball.
"Just because of the fact that he can command it," the pitching coach said. "A changeup is to a fastball kind of like a slider is to a curveball. Where using a changeup makes a fastball better, using a slider helps the curveball. You get that element of back-and-forth. But a slider also bridges the gap and benefits the fastball as well."
While the talent level in Hickory was certainly a step down from Bakersfield, Brigham showed progress in more than just statistics. He has the talent to pitch in the big leagues and took significant strides last season.
The 2011 campaign will be key for Brigham, as he must capitalize on the late-season success by producing consistent results to match his excellent raw stuff.
Also See: Rangers Minor League Notes (March 15, 2010)
Rangers Minor League Notes (March 18, 2010)
Command making the difference for Brigham (March 20, 2010)
Brigham working on mental approach (July 22, 2010)
Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Slider, Changeup.
Fastball: Brigham has plus fastball velocity, sitting in the low-90s and touching 95-96 mph during his starts. He has bumped 97 in the past. Perhaps his biggest issue has been fastball command. The fastball has some late life when thrown down in the zone, but he elevates it too often, making his fastball straight and hittable. Brigham did a better job of commanding his fastball down late last season with Hickory, and he was tougher to hit and induced more ground balls as a result. If he can continue to show consistent command in 2011, he could have a breakout season.
Other Pitches: The right-hander throws a strong upper-70s curveball. It's a hammer 12-to-6 pitch with sharp, late downer break. While the curve should become a plus pitch, he has struggled to consistently throw it for strikes. Looking for an easier-to-command pitch that would play off his fastball better, he introduced a slider to the mix after returning to Hickory last season. Brigham found immediate success with the offering and quickly began throwing it more often than the curve. He has had trouble commanding his low-80s changeup with much consistency. Though the pitch can flash average at times––with good velocity separation and some armside fade––it won't matter much if he can't show it for strikes.
Projection: Currently a starting pitcher, Brigham was able to lower his pitch count and consistently work deep into games for the first time in his career with Hickory last season. His strong arm and repertoire give him the ceiling of a number three starter, but he may profile best as a hard-throwing late-inning reliever. Because Brigham hasn't yet mastered the changeup and his command can be inconsistent, his plus velocity and two potential solid-average to plus breaking pitches may fit best out of the bullpen.
2011 Outlook: Coming out of Spring Training, Brigham will likely get his second shot at the High-A level, pitching in the Myrtle Beach rotation. It may be sink or swim time for Brigham––he enters the year having already spent parts of five seasons in pro ball. The hurler certainly has the talent to pitch in the big leagues, and he could get a look at Double-A Frisco if he has early-season success with the Pelicans.
|2006||AZL Rangers (RK)||2-6||58.1||54||19||58||3.70|
|2008||DNP – Injury||---||---||---||---||---||---|
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