Brady Lail put himself more on the prospect map in 2015 after posting a 2.45 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP ratio for Double-A Trenton. His first half performance was rewarded too when he was selected to the Eastern League All-Star Game.
He made his Triple-A debut on August 4 of last year and finished the year with the Railriders. His numbers last year in Scranton weren’t nearly as good, posting a 4.62 ERA, a 1.70 WHIP, and he had more walks than strikeouts. But pitching in Triple-A for a month was a big help for right-hander out of Bingham High School in Utah.
“It helped me out a ton especially in the offseason,” Lail said. “I struggled a little bit coming up here and [after] getting a taste of it I went back in the offseason and really worked my butt off. Having that end of the season here last year really helped me out and I was excited to get back up here.”
After a dominating season in Double-A last year it was surprising to some that Lail opened this year back in Trenton. But it didn’t bother Lail.
“I feel like the Yankees have a plan for everything they do,” Lail said. “Giving me the ball in Double-A on Opening Night was a big honor so I wasn’t down on it [at all]. I was just hoping I could make an impact there and hopefully join this team soon, and they gave me the opportunity.”
Lail only threw 31 innings in Trenton this year before being recalled to Scranton. He has done better this year in Triple-A too. His ERA was 3.61 before his start on August 12 in which he allowed six runs in six innings.
“Adapting up here, being part of this team is a big thing and working with Tom Phelps is huge for me.” Lail said about his season so far in Scranton. “Just being on this team… with the defense and making me mature a little more as a player and as a young man. I’m excited about that and every outing I feel like I go out there and learning something more, and things getting a little bit better.”
Pitching Coach Tommy Phelps talked about the year that Lail is having.
“Great job, good kid,” Phelps said. “He’s getting better. His fastball command has gotten better, good curveball, good changeup, really good changeup, he’s got a little slider cutter that he mixes in there. For me he’s just growing as a pitcher and learning himself and realizing how to attack hitters, set up hitters and knowing what his strengths are.”
The biggest differences in Lail’s game this year is his strikeout rate. Last year with the Railriders he stuck out opposing batters 7.8 percent of the time. This season that number has more than doubled to 16.7 percent.
“Last year I think I was trying to be too fine as a pitcher,” Lail said, "trying to make too quality of pitches and I feel like this year I’m just trying to throw strikes and get hitters in bad counts.”
“His stuff is good,” Phelps said about the rise in strikeouts for Lail. “He’s learning how to mix pitches, it’s just a part of him maturing as a pitcher and knowing what pitch to throw when and being able to control his efforts so he can execute the pitches.”
On August 6, early on in the game, he struggled with his fastball command. In the first two innings he allowed two hits, two runs and walked two batters. His defense didn’t help him out in the second inning either but Lail limited the damage. From then on Lail would pitch four more innings and only allow one more hit, and he struck out five batters in what would be a winning performance.
“It was just one of those days, I was out of sync with my body,” Lail said postgame about the rough two innings to start the game. “I felt like I was trying to make adjustments too much and I was getting inside my head.”
He also talked about what changed between the second and third inning.
“Then in the third inning Phelpsie (pitching coach Tommy Phelps) said 'hey dude get back to what you do' and something clicked,” Lail said. “I was really locked in on my warm up pitches. I was like okay let’s figure this out and get in rhythm now and let’s get it rolling and it did.”
Manager Al Pedrique spoke postgame about Lail’s performance.
“I give him credit because after those two runs he settled down,” Pedrique said. “He kept us in the game, he located his pitches better, worked ahead in the count and better command of his breaking ball and changeup. When he gave up the two runs he was anxious, jumping out front… but that’s what these guys are supposed to do, regroup, settle down and keep the team in the game.”
“He’s so competitive where he gives so much effort that he gets out of rhythm,” Phelps said about Lail being out of whack in the first two innings of his August 6 start. “As he matures as a lot of younger guys do… he realizes he doesn’t have to make his curveball nastier or have to throw his fastball harder he just has to make his quality pitches and execute. That’s what he’s realizing, that’s how he’s staying away from those big innings early in the year, and he’d have a big inning but in reality, he’d get guys in scoring position and try to do too much and then get ball one, ball two and not execute as well.”
It's those kind of in-game adjustments that have gone unnoticed to the masses but haven't slid by the coaching staff, and it's that kind of mental makeup that has Lail still very much front and center with organization higher-ups despite the somewhat lackluster numbers in 2016.
Another key is his ever-changing repertoire too; Lail has started to throw more two-seamers to go along with his four-seamer.
“It’s a mix of both, my four-seamer is a little bit harder I can throw early in the count,” Lail said about his blend of fastballs. “Later in a hitters count like 2-2 or 3-2 I like to throw that two-seam because it has a little more depth and hitters hit the ball in the ground, and [I] get some ground outs.”
44.9 percent of balls put in play against Lail are on the ground too which is critical for a pitcher in the Yankee system because a fly ball pitcher won’t fair well with the ballparks in the AL East, and it's yet another reason why team insiders are still very high on Lail's long-term big league potential.
“He’s throwing two-seamers. They’ve been good, been consistent. He’s keeping them in the lane real good,” Phelps said of Lails two-seamer. “He’s able to mix it with his four-seam so he’s giving the guys different looks. He’s about to pitch them back and forth, up and down, in and out. So he’s attacking all the zones.”