Brigham giving 'Riders quality starts

FRISCO, Texas – After turning a corner and making some key adjustments at Single-A Hickory last season, right-hander Jake Brigham is off to a good start with Double-A Frisco this year. Lone Star Dugout recently sat down with the 23-year-old prospect.

Right-hander Jake Brigham isn't posting dominant numbers through his first eight starts at Double-A Frisco, but he is holding his own while showing recent signs of improvement. It's an encouraging sign for a handful of reasons––particularly because he has above-average stuff and jumped two levels after finishing last season at Single-A Hickory.

Through eight starts, Brigham has posted a 3.74 ERA. He has logged 45.2 innings, allowing 38 hits, walking 15, and striking out 44.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound hurler opened last season at High-A Bakersfield but lived up in the zone too often with his fastball and struggled to throw his sharp curveball for strikes. The result was a 6.93 ERA and 67 hits allowed in 49.1 innings.

Although Brigham features plus velocity at 90-96 mph––and has ever since his Tommy John surgery in 2008––Single-A opponents had hit him hard because of his fastball command issues.

When the prospect returned to Single-A Hickory last June, he wanted to focus on a few things––working low in the zone with his fastball, improving his mental game and confidence on the mound (as detailed in this interview from last season), and adding an easier-to-command slider.

Brigham appeared to take strides in all three aspects in his second tour with the Crawdads. He began working deep into games for the first time in his career and posted a 3.36 ERA over 83 innings. He was difficult to hit (66 hits allowed) and began pounding the bottom-half of the strike zone with plus velocity (2.4 groundouts per airout).

As the 23-year-old explains in the following interview, he feels that experience in Hickory––and working with pitching coach Brad Holman––helped get his career back on the right path.

Now, Brigham is displaying confidence by stepping into the Texas League and pitching well from the out-set. The fastball command, while not perfect, has helped him limit opponents to a .222 batting average.

He has also shown progress over the last four outings––25.2 ip, 16 h, 7 r, 7 bb, 23 k. Brigham turned in his best Double-A outing yet last Tuesday afternoon, tossing six innings of two-hit, shutout ball and striking out eight.

While the Florida native may ultimately find a home in the bullpen as a hard-throwing late-inning reliever, his performance since returning to Hickory last season shows he still has a chance to develop as a starting pitcher.

Brigham still struggles with his changeup, but the presence of two usable breaking balls––including a swing-and-miss curve––could help make up for the lack of a change. And if he can command his fastball––which has reached up to 97 mph this season––the pitch counts will shrink and he'll begin working deeper into games.

Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with the pitching prospect.

Cole: Coming into spring training, it seemed that you were on that High-A/Double-A rotation bubble along with a handful of guys. Did you have any expectations?

Brigham: I was hoping to come here to Frisco. But I knew it was going to be a battle in spring training. I knew I had to come out pitching well and show them that I was willing to work hard and that I deserved the chance. I'm very grateful that they gave me that chance.

Cole: When you returned to Hickory last year, you obviously changed a few things, including adding the slider. Did you feel that's when you started turning the corner?

Brigham: Oh, yeah. It was just a brand new start for me. My mind and everything––I sort of took a step back and reevaluated everything. I worked real well with Brad Holman down there. It was the best thing for me, looking back right now.

Cole: When I spoke to you last season, you talked about how much you felt you'd developed mentally back in Hickory. How much of a factor was just getting some success under your belt for the first time since surgery?

Brigham: Huge. It was nice. It's nice to start going deeper into games. It has just been long overdue. I have done a lot of hard work. At the point there in 2009 and 2010 early on, I wasn't getting any success. It was beating me up, working that hard and having it not show on the numbers. But it's nice to see it in the numbers a little bit.

Cole: You pitched in one big league game during spring training this year. Was that the first time you'd done that?

Brigham: Yeah, that was my first time going over there.

Cole: Just tell me about that experience and what it was like.

Brigham: It was a blast. I went out there and threw one inning––one groundout and two popups. I just had a blast. It was really cool to be out there with those guys.

Cole: Obviously you've now progressed to Double-A for the first time in your career. What are your thoughts on your performance thus far?

Brigham: I'm doing alright. I really haven't broken out, but I really haven't done bad. I'm going out there and going at least five every start. I'd like to––the goal is to go seven every start and have a quality start. But I'm working on a lot of things right now. I feel good in the development of my delivery. We changed some things with my arm slot. But ultimately, I feel good and I feel really happy in the place I'm at right now.

Cole: What are some of those things you've been working on?

Brigham: We just minimized my delivery a lot––eliminating a lot of movement so there's no error. It's hard to mess up when you're not doing very much. And my arm slot––I just brought it down to a little more natural arm slot. I was getting way over the top of the ball and leaving balls up. Now I feel like I'm more consistently down in the zone.

Cole: I know that you had trouble with working up in the zone with Bakersfield last year. Do you feel the new slot has kind of kept your fastball from drifting up at times?

Brigham: Yes. That, and just my extension––throwing it through the zone. I really changed––it's sort of a mindset. Rather than throwing it to the catcher, I'm throwing it through him now and causing some extension to get out.

Cole: In terms of the mental and confidence aspect, how much different of a pitcher are you compared to the start of last season?

Brigham: Huge. Last season to this year––I'm a totally different pitcher. Mentally, I'm strong. I feel like I can go out there every night––whether I get hit around or pitch good, I feel like I can come back in five days and be competitive. And I feel like I have a chance to win every time I go out.

Cole: You picked up the slider in Hickory last season, looking for a breaking ball that was a little easier to throw for strikes. How has that progressed in Frisco?

Brigham: I love it. It gives me a great pitch that I can throw in any count. It's very easy to control in the zone and out of the zone. It's a hard pitch. I didn't have anything––as of last year, my changeup––and I'm still working on it. But I didn't have anything that looked like a fastball. I've got that big-breaking curveball. But it has really helped me out a lot.

Cole: Is the slider more of a pitch you'll use to get ahead before going to the curve to chase strikeouts?

Brigham: I throw it in every count. It's a put-away pitch, to get ahead––I feel real confident with it right now. I'm putting it where I want to down in the zone or in-and-out. So I feel like I can throw it in any count pretty much.

Cole: When I saw you in Hickory last season, you seemed to be throwing the slider a little more than the curve. Is that still the case?

Brigham: It depends on the game and the types of hitters. But it's probably 50-50 right now.

Cole: With the mechanical change and all other developments, how much better do you feel about your fastball command so far this year?

Brigham: It is getting better. It's a lot better since last year. Obviously you can never be perfect. But I feel like I've made huge leaps and bounds compared to last year. Like I said, I'm totally different on the mound than I was last year. But I'm on the right track right now. I feel good.

Cole: You've been holding your own in Double-A and showing some recent improvement. Do you feel like you're close to breaking out?

Brigham: I have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. You can always improve on things. I'm happy where I'm at right now––who I am as a pitcher, what I'm learning, and the team I'm on. I'm just here right now and having fun.

Cole: After being drafted in 2006, you spent the next five seasons between Arizona, Spokane, Hickory, and Bakersfield. How nice is it to finally reach the Double-A level and play close to Arlington?

Brigham: It's a blast. It is totally different baseball here. The ballparks are a whole lot nicer here and you get treated a lot better. But it's fun––pitching against better hitters. Pitching against guys that you know could be in the big leagues tomorrow. And I like knowing that you have to compete every time you go out.

Cole: As you look forward to the rest of the season, what would you like to improve upon or accomplish?

Brigham: I want to win games. I want to keep my team in the mix. I want to be able to go out and throw seven innings in every start––giving my team a chance to win. And I just want to stay healthy the whole year and keep working hard, keep getting better, and improving on fastball command. Just every aspect of the game, I want to get better at and work all the way through to the end.

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