Raw talent has never been an issue for Jake Brigham, who has one of the better arms in a deep Texas Rangers minor league system.
The right-hander missed the 2008 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery and returned with Single-A Hickory in 2009. While the results weren't sparkling [5.52 ERA in 89.2 innings], he was able to refine mechanics and improve his stuff.
Brigham appeared to be putting it all together during Spring Training this year, as he showed excellent command of a 91-95 mph fastball [sitting at 93-94] and hard curveball.
After posting dominant results in camp––with the above-average stuff and command––Brigham earned a spot in the opening day rotation at High-A Bakersfield.
Unfortunately, the results weren't quite what Brigham was hoping for. In 49.1 innings with the Blaze this season, the 22-year-old allowed 67 hits while walking 26 and striking out 39. He had a 1-5 record with a 6.93 earned-run average.
Brigham was living up in the zone with his fastball and falling behind in counts too often. Though he has plus velocity and a swing-and-miss breaking ball, his fastball straightens out and becomes very hittable when left up.
Since going back to Hickory, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound prospect has posted his best results yet. He pitched a gem last Sunday, surrendering one run on three hits in nine innings. It was the first complete-game effort of his career.
Brigham struck out only four batters in the game against Lexington, but he threw just 94 pitches and recorded 19 groundouts.
In five starts with the Crawdads, Brigham is getting 3.6 groundouts per flyout while being more efficient with his pitch count.
The Florida native may be back in Low-A––where he pitched last season––but the results are encouraging. There's no doubt that he has the stuff to succeed at the higher levels––it's all about command.
As Brigham mentions below, he has also added a slider to his repertoire since re-joining the Crawdads. The hurler has struggled to gain much of a feel for his changeup during his career, and the Rangers wanted the prospect to add a harder offspeed pitch with movement to give hitters a different look.
Lone Star Dugout caught up with Brigham a couple days after his recent complete-game victory.
Jason Cole: Tell me a little bit about your start last time out. I know it was the first complete game your career.
Jake Brigham: Yes, it was. It was awesome. It was a lot of fun. Everything was falling into place. I got a bunch of ground balls and got a lot of help from my fielders––a lot. I was on the same page with ‘Z' all game––Zaneski. It was just good. I had a lot of fun.
Cole: Do you know how many pitches you threw?
Brigham: I threw 94, I believe.
Cole: Has that been about your pitch count this season? Has it fluctuated?
Brigham: At the beginning of the year, it got up to about 110. And then I missed about a month of starts, so we backed off. But I'm pretty much back at max pitch count right now. It's about 100 to 105 or somewhere around there.
Cole: You started the season in Bakersfield, and I'm sure it didn't go exactly as you planned. Can you give me your assessment of your time there?
Brigham: It was tough. I was beating myself up mentally a lot. It was just a whole mess of things that kept building on top of each other. I had a couple bad starts in a row, and I just take my job very seriously. I don't let go of some things sometimes when I should.
Just coming down here and sort of resetting myself––it was a brand new start for me, which I needed. I've been working a lot during these past six weeks on my mental approach to the game. It has really helped out a lot.
Cole: When they did send you back to Hickory, was that kind of what they told you? Did they say they wanted you to get a fresh start and clear your mind?
Brigham: Yep, that's exactly what they told me.
Cole: From looking at the stats, I noticed you're getting a ton of ground balls in Hickory. You had 19 groundouts in your complete game the other day. Are you doing anything different that is leading to that?
Brigham: I'm down in the zone. 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 what the ground ball results are coming from.
Cole: So it's safe to say you aren't throwing a sinker now or anything?
Brigham: No, sir.
Cole: Tell me how big that last start was for your confidence level. You were both successful and efficient.
Brigham: It was great. My confidence has been getting better and better every time I go out. Just with my team––I know that if it's put in play, they're going to make the play on it. They made some really great plays for me the other day. Just having confidence in all my pitches. I know that I can put them wherever I want whenever I want. It's getting a lot better.
Cole: Like you've said, you're getting ahead of hitters and working down in the zone in Hickory. Have you made a mechanical adjustment that has led to that, or has it been purely mental?
Brigham: It has just been the mindset––100 percent. My mechanics are the same. My mechanicals are solid, I feel. They've been solid since the beginning of the year. That was something that we really pounded out last year and worked on.
But it has been a mental year for me. I've been learning how to be confident and have control of the game in my mind the entire time.
Cole: You are having much better results in Hickory than you did last year. Since the start of Spring Training to now, how do you feel your game has developed?
Brigham: I think it goes back to the mental side of it. I'm just going out there and knowing that I have five days of hard work. I'm knowing that I worked harder than anybody that steps in the box. I have that confidence that I'm better prepared than they are.
Cole: I know developing the changeup has been a big focus for you over the last couple years. How is that coming along?
Brigham: It has come along. We're still working on it. I've actually put in a slider over these past three starts. I've started throwing it, and it has been a real good pitch for me. I think it's going to be a great pitch for me for the rest of my career.
I've got to start to fine-tune it and learn when the best times to throw it are. But it has worked well for me so far. That is the focal point for me right now. I'm working on that and getting the changeup in as much as I can, as well.
Cole: Are you throwing the slider as well as your curveball?
Cole: Tell me about how that came about. Who approached you with the idea of adding the slider, and what was the general reasoning behind it?
Brigham: I have a good arm. God blessed me with a strong arm. And I needed something hard that moved. My changeup––I don't have that great of a changeup yet. I just started throwing it in flat grounds, and then I talked to Danny Clark––our pitching coordinator––about it.
When I got down here, I started working with Brad Holman on it. I just took it out there, and it just sort of came natural. It feels good. I can throw it for strikes. I'm just going to continue fine-tuning it.
Cole: Approximately how often have you been throwing it in starts so far?
Brigham: More and more with every start. Probably anywhere from 10 to 15 times a game––maybe 20 times.
Cole: You said you like the pitch so far. How much has it improved since the first time you threw it in a game?
Brigham: A lot. I can throw it for strikes, I can throw it out of the zone. My control over it has gotten a lot better. I feel real good about it.
Cole: You are off to a solid start in Hickory. Obviously you could stay in Hickory or go back to Bakersfield at some point. But regardless of what happens, is there anything you want to see out of yourself from here on out?
Brigham: I just want to keep pitching. I want to go deep into games––seeing the seventh, eighth, and ninth inning in every outing. I need to keep my pitch counts down and just throw a lot of strikes.
Brigham working on mental approach
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