Pitching, in many ways, is an art form. To be a pitcher, one must be constantly striving to perfect their craft. This involves obsessing over meticulous details, practicing religiously, and most importantly, injecting a little bit of heart. The great Sandy Koufax himself once said: “pitching is the art of instilling fear.”
For Yankee prospect Brady Lail, though, mastering the art of pitching pales in comparison to his ultimate dream of making the big leagues and becoming a New York Yankee.
Lail, 21, is one of those guys that never stops smiling--a formidable attribute to have in a high-stress environment like a professional clubhouse. Even in the minors, the daily grind is incredibly taxing. Team meetings, specialized workouts, and rigorous throwing sessions clog up the day--and that doesn’t even include playing in the actual games themselves. Yet through it all, Lail is relishing every moment to bring his dream to fruition.
“This is a dream come true. It’s not everyday you get picked up by a big league team. A lot of guys want to be in the position I’m in. When they called me it was surreal and I couldn’t thank them enough for the opportunity,” he remarked.
Though he generated quite a bit of buzz this past season around the minor leagues, Lail isn’t exactly a household name quite yet. On paper, he is a fairly prototypical baseball player [6’2, 185 lbs at the moment] but what has scouts adjusting their glasses to take a closer look is his impressive mechanics and track record thus far.
“We’re talking about a kid that can throw four different pitches for strikes,” Tampa Yankees pitching coach Danny Borrell opined. “His execution is excellent.”
Borrell is right. It’s rare to find an A-ball pitcher who has four pitches that are considered equally as effective. Among his arsenal of pitches is a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a changeup, and a cutter. When he’s on his game, Lail can peak at about 95 mph on his fastball, a major reason why he strikes out a batter per inning on average.
Lail is one of those efficiency-over-power type guys though. You’ll be hard pressed to find an at-bat where Lail pounds the strike zone with blazing speeds. Instead, Lail prefers to stymie pitchers with razor sharp accuracy and, as Borrell mentioned, his wide range of pitches.
“I’m not a hard throwing pitcher, so it’s more about outsmarting them,” Lail said. “Although, it’s really more about executing pitches. My focus is to save my arm and get them out as fast as I possibly can. That’s gonna come with forcing ground outs and maybe a few strikeouts here and there.”
So just where did all this talent come from?
If you ask Lail, it all started with his father and brother’s tutelage. His father Ben has played and coached all his life and his older brother (also named Ben) was a standout pitcher in high school.
“My dad was an outstanding baseball player that I looked up to, but it was mainly watching my brother play,” he said. “Whenever my brother was pitching, I was watching. Even though I was young, I always wanted to grow up and be like my brother. Mechanically wise we’re really similar, which is cool to see.”
According to his mother Jody, Lail was obsessed with baseball as a child, taking his ball and glove with him wherever he went.
“I can’t remember a day when he didn’t love baseball. Brady always went everywhere with a ball and a mitt, I’m not kidding,” she said.
After developing a passion for the game as a child, Lail attended Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah, a fairly large high school that competes in Class 5A athletic competition. While the school is known for its formidable football program, Southern Utah isn’t exactly a baseball hotbed. In fact, Lail was the school’s starting quarterback and drew quite a bit of interest from college football scouts. Much to his parents’ delight, Lail decided that the best place for him longevity wise was on the mound, not the gridiron.
“Coming out of Utah you don’t get those hard throwing guys as much. In high school I felt like I threw hard and had a decent curveball that I could show. That was basically it, throw a fastball by somebody and make then try to make them look stupid with the curveball,” he laughed.
After a meritorious high school career, Lail considered attending University of Arizona, a school known for churning out solid baseball prospects, [such as current RailRider star Rob Refsnyder].
“I had a great scholarship offer to the University of Arizona but when it came down to it I wanted to get started right away, to get my career going,” he said.
The 2012 draft was littered with big name pitching prospects such as Kevin Gausman and Kyle Zimmer, but Lail didn’t have to wait terribly long to hear his name called. That being said, draft night wasn’t exactly the smoothest of times in the Lail Household. According to Mrs. Lail, Brady was adamant about getting his education and would only be swayed by a guaranteed amount of money. His phone rang in the seventh and eighth rounds, but the offers were not nearly enough to sway him from college.
“He got a few offers but eventually realized that it was not enough to keep him from going to college,’” said Jody Lail. “That night he went to bed and I remember him saying: ‘Maybe I’m not good enough yet.’”
The Bronx Bombers ultimately believed he was worth the investment, drafting him in the 18th round the following day but in the end it didn't bother Lail not being selected in the first few rounds.
“Not at all. Just having this chance to be here is enough for me. Right here I feel like it doesn’t matter if you’re that first or second round pitcher. You just have to do your job and establish yourself. I’m thankful for that opportunity and excited to be a Yankee.”
It was from then on that Lail was plunged into a rapid baseball adventure that would test him like he’d never been tested before. In the ensuing months after the draft, he was sent to the Gulf Coast League in Tampa where he posted solid numbers in his two-year tenure with the team. In 2012, Lail only played five games for the team but after an impressive 2013 statline of 4-1, 2.33 ERA, 51 K’s through twelve games, he merited his call-up to Charleston this past season.
It was in Charleston that Lail truly hit his stride. In his time with the Riverdogs, Lail wasted no time making strong impressions, posting a formidable 7-3 record with a 3.49 ERA through ten games. Following his hot start, he was named to the South Atlantic League’s All-Star team midway through the season.
His first bump in the road happened when he made the jump from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa in August of this past year. In his first three games as a Tampa Yankee, Lail surrendered a combined 12 earned runs and owned a dismal strikeout ratio of 0.5 K’s per inning. Opening jitters were to be expected though, and Lail proceeded to show flashes of brilliance after shaking off initial nerves.
“Obviously in Charleston he did a great job,” Borrell said. “When he got [to Tampa], just like anyone else, he was trying too much. Probably pressing a bit too hard. Just elevated some pitches. I don’t care who you are, if you elevate some baseball’s you’re going to get hits against you.”
A brief identity crisis also played into Lail’s shaky start in the Florida State League. According to Lail’s father, he was trying to be too many versions of himself at once instead of simply sticking to his authentic style of play.
“In talking to him he was putting too much pressure on himself,” Lail’s father said. “I told him he had to be who he is and not try to match what other people. As soon as he started doing that he started to feel more comfortable and things started clicking for him.”
And click they did. Over his next four games, Lail posted a masterful 0.78 ERA while fanning fourteen batters total in the process. In his final game against Daytona Beach, Lail demonstrated exactly what type of pitcher he plans to be in seasons to come, striking out seven batters over six innings with no runs and just two hits allowed.
“So far we’re very pleased with the way he’s been working with us,” Tampa Yankees Manager Al Pedrique commented. “He’s been getting better. His last few outings he had more confidence, he [was] throwing the ball around the plate on a consistent basis and keeping the ball down in the strike zone.”
It’s safe to say that Lail has improved leaps and bounds since being drafted nearly two and a half years ago by the Yankees organization. Back in the Gulf Coast League days, Lail was dependent on his fastball and was lucky if his curveball performed the way he wanted it to. Presently, Lail has a bevy of tricks up his sleeve, and most importantly, he feels confident in all of them.
“In 2012, I was a big fastball-curveball guy, I never had a changeup or even a sinker. Now I’ve developed a fastball I can command pretty well, a sinker that’s become one of my better pitches and a cutter recently, which helps out a lot. The sinker/changeup has become my best pitch this year. It’s helped me out a ton,” he said.
Lail is enjoying his time in the minors but knows he can’t become stagnant. There’s always another player ready to jump in and take your spot, and Lail is fully aware of that. But if his track record this past season has taught us anything, it’s that he’ll make the adjustments wherever he goes. Complacency does not flow through his veins.
In many ways, Brady Lail is an artist. His pitches are the cans of paint that illustrate his craft, and the field he stands on is his canvas. Some days, his body of work is stunning, and other days there is quite a bit of work to be done. Regardless of the outcome of a given game, Lail will never stop striving for glory. You can count on that.
Lail Continues Striving
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