Name: Jake Brigham
Position: Relief Pitcher
DOB: February 10, 1988
Acquired: 2006 Amateur Draft, sixth round
The feature portion of this article is from a July 20, 2011, story after Brigham's transition to the bullpen. The results and numbers from the remainder of the season have been updated.
Since right-hander Jake Brigham returned to action from Tommy John surgery in 2009, pure stuff has never been his issue. As a starting pitcher, Brigham routinely throws his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, topping out at 96 and 97 mph on occasion. His curveball has shown flashes of being a true hammer pitch capable of missing bats at all levels.
But since returning, Brigham hasn't consistently posted the results to match the stuff. He logged a 5.52 ERA while giving up 104 hits in 89.2 innings with Single-A Hickory in '09. After a strong spring training in '10, he was assigned to Bakersfield and posted a 6.93 ERA in 10 starts.
Brigham appeared to turn a corner when he returned to Hickory around mid-season two years ago. While playing for the Crawdads, he worked with pitching coach Brad Holman on introducing an easier-to-command slider into his repertoire. Brigham began commanding his fastball low in the zone more often, and he was working deep into games for the first time in his career.
The 24-year-old built on that momentum with another strong spring last March and earned an opening-day assignment to Double-A Frisco. After holding his own early in the season, Brigham began to scuffle. In his first eight Texas League starts, the prospect had a 3.74 ERA and appeared to be trending in the right direction. But over his next six starts, he surrendered 27 runs in 28.2 innings.
As it turned out, Brigham's last start came on June 18 against Corpus Christi. The 6-foot-3 hurler was told he'd be going to the bullpen.
A move to the bullpen always seemed like a possibility for Brigham, who still struggles with his changeup and has never shown pinpoint fastball command. As a reliever, he can rely solely on his plus velocity and two breaking balls.
With both a curveball and slider, Brigham has a couple of options for a go-to secondary pitch. But for right now, he's still trying to see which one he prefers in the relief role.
"I've thrown both (the curve and slider) in these first few outings," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to end up with. Me and (Frisco pitching coach) Jeff Andrews have been talking about which pitch to go to coming out of the bullpen with two pitches.
"I think I'll probably use both the curveball and slider coming out right now. I do like them both, but I've got to figure out which one I can get hot with the quickest."
Brigham experienced an initial adjustment period while making the bullpen transition. In his first relief outing, he was socked for four runs on four hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning.
Though he surely wasn't happy with the results, Brigham did learn a few things from the experience.
"What I learned is that you've got to make every pitch count," the Florida native said. "Early on in games when you're starting, you can get away with fastballs over the middle and guys might roll over it. They aren't going to be as aggressive.
"Late in the game, they're going to be aggressive. The game is on the line and there aren't very many at-bats left. You just have to take care of each pitch that you throw."
He also learned about controlling his adrenaline level. He has struggled with elevating his fastball too often in recent years, making him hittable despite the plus velocity. And when Brigham was over-amped in his first few relief appearances, his fastball was doing just that––staying up in the zone.
"It was a lot different," he said of his first few relief appearances. "You're going 100 miles an hour, and you've got to find a way to slow down a little bit. But it's just part of the development of learning this side of pitching."
Along with harnessing the adrenaline comes learning to get loose in the shorter time span. As a starting pitcher, Brigham often got 30 minutes to warm up and was able to begin with long toss. In the bullpen, he is limited to a 65-to-70 foot area with much less time.
In his first four relief outings, Brigham yielded 11 runs on 13 hits in five innings, walking three and striking out three. Then he began to find his groove out of the ‘pen. In his final 17 relief outings, Brigham posted the following stat-line––35.0 ip, 25 h, 7 er (1.80 ERA), 19 bb, 43 k.
Although he had the occasional issue with walks, Brigham was not only more difficult to hit, but he was also missing bats at a higher frequency.
The former sixth-round pick mostly threw his fastball between 93-96 mph out of the bullpen, although he began reaching 95-97 mph with more frequency late in the year. He was also throwing his slider harder, sitting in the upper-80s.
The late-season performance and stuff was good enough to earn Brigham a spot on the Rangers' 40-man roster this offseason, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft.
Also See: Brigham giving ‘Riders quality starts (May 21, 2011)
Brigham adjusting to relief role (July 20, 2011)
Rangers All-Prospect Teams (November 8, 2011)
Rangers add six to 40-man roster (November 18, 2011)
Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Slider, Changeup.
Fastball: Brigham consistently pumps plus velocity––bordering on plus-plus––as a reliever. After moving to the bullpen last summer, his fastball sat between 93-96 mph, reaching up to 97 on occasion. He worked in the 95-97 range during some late-season appearances. Pure velocity has never been an issue for Brigham. But he's had trouble with elevating his fastball in the zone at times, making him more hittable than he should be given his stuff. The right-hander's fastball has some natural weight and life when thrown low in the zone, but it straightens out when left up. Following his initial few relief appearances, Brigham did a better job of controlling his adrenaline and working low––he induced more than two groundouts per flyout as a reliever. Brigham's command and control both project to become about average, but he's not yet a finished product in that area and will need to continue refining both.
Other Pitches: The 24-year-old attacks hitters with two breaking balls, and both are capable of missing bats. Perhaps best-known for his sharp 12-to-6 curveball, Brigham actually appeared to prefer his slider out of the bullpen last season. He added the slider as an easier-to-command breaking pitch in 2010. It looked like a borderline plus pitch late in 2011, ticking into the upper-80s and showing more sharp tilt as the season progressed. Brigham's upper-70s curveball can be a true hammer pitch with late downer break, but it's an offering that he doesn't consistently command. He's toyed with a changeup to minimal success during his career, and it doesn't figure to be a significant aspect of his relief arsenal.
Projection: Brigham transitioned from starting pitcher to reliever around mid-season last year in Double-A. At the time, the prospect said he wasn't sure if it was a permanent move. But he appears to be a full-time reliever now––especially after his stuff ticked up and results improved out of the bullpen. With three pitches capable of missing bats, he has the ceiling of a decent seventh- or eighth-inning reliever. He isn't fully developed yet, though, and will need to continue refining his command of his entire arsenal––the fastball and curveball in particular. Pure stuff isn't an issue for Brigham, but his command will ultimately define how good he can be.
2012 Outlook: As a member of the 40-man roster, Brigham is in major league camp right now. He should pitch in some big league spring training games but will almost certainly begin the year back in the minor leagues. His opening day assignment will be either Double-A Frisco or Triple-A Round Rock. But if all goes well in 2012, Brigham should pitch the majority of his innings in Triple-A. While he's not likely to pitch much––if at all––in the major leagues this season, he could get a late-season look if he picks up where he left off developmentally last summer.
|2006||AZL Rangers (RK)||2-6||58.1||54||19||58||3.70|
|2008||DNP – Injured||---||---||---||---||---||---|