Brandon Bailey may not be in college anymore, but his baseball education is continuing in earnest. The Oakland Athletics 2016 sixth-round pick is soaking up new information during his first full professional season and embracing the challenge of trying new things.
Bailey came to the A’s last season after a standout three-year career with Gonzaga that saw him post a 3.28 ERA and strike-out 278 in 299 innings. During his junior season, Bailey had a 2.42 ERA and 125 strike-outs in 100.1 innings. He punctuated his final collegiate season with a 17-K performance against BYU in the West Coast Conference tournament, which was played at the home of his current team, the Stockton Ports.
After signing with the A’s, Bailey made two starts with the AZL Athletics before jumping to short-season, where he struck-out 42 and posted a 3.08 ERA in 38 innings. In 2017, Bailey began the year with Low-A Beloit, and he earned a promotion to High-A after putting up a 2.68 ERA and a 73:21 K:BB in 57 Midwest League innings. Since joining the Ports, Bailey’s ERA is 6.05 in 19.1 innings, but his FIP is 4.58 and he has a 27:4 K:BB. For the season, Bailey has 100 strike-outs and 25 walks in 76.1 innings.
While the numbers have been solid, Bailey has been most excited this season about the work he has done on enhancing his pitching repertoire. Bailey says his main focus has been to work ahead in the count, but he is also tinkering with his off-speed pitches. Over the past 10 days, the right-hander has worked with Ports’ pitching coach Steve Connelly on adding a cut-fastball to his arsenal, which already included a four-seam fastball, a four-seam change-up, a slider and a spike-curveball.
“Coach Connelly here helped me develop a little bit of a cutter. That’s new and is very exciting,” Bailey said last Thursday. “I’m also continuing to work on the spiked curve and the slider is continuing to get better. I think overall I’m just getting more comfortable with my off-speed pitches and my fastball-changeup combo has been my bread-and-butter since college. I have finally been able to put that all together and I’m taking it one pitch at a time, trying to work ahead in the count.”
Bailey is only at the beginning stages with his work on the cutter, but he expects to continue to develop the pitch as the season progresses. He believes the cutter could be a big weapon for him down-the-road.
“At this point, it is going to be something to work on with Coach Connelly and start to get a feel and have it consistently cut,” Bailey said. “That’s a really exciting pitch for me just because I do throw a four-seam fastball and it stays true. It doesn’t really get a whole lot of movement – except that it rises, I guess – but the cutter is supposed to have the same sort of spin but gets movement glove-side. I think that could play great along with my four-seam fastball and my four-seam change-up. I think that is really exciting to be able to develop that pitch.”
In general, Bailey has enjoyed being given the opportunity to try new things in professional baseball.
“Having the resources to get better, whether it be the pitching coach, or being able to talk to your fellow teammates who are going through the same thing and figuring out what their approach might be and what they look for, you have so many ways that you can learn about yourself as a baseball player and how to get better,” Bailey said. “That’s one thing that I have really been excited about because in college, I didn’t really change anything because it worked really well. But here, you’ve got to constantly find ways to move up the ladder and fine-tune your craft to become a big leaguer. That’s what is really cool about professional baseball.”
Bailey has utilized the data the A’s have collected through Trackman to adjust how he attacks hitters. Although Bailey’s four-seam fastball rarely tops 93 MPH, he gets plenty of swings and misses on the pitch. Bailey is able to get the pitch past hitters up in the strike-zone, something that is generally reserved for pitchers who throw in the upper-90s.
“Looking at the Trackman data and using the information that we have here in professional baseball I’m kind of learning that I have a really good spin rate on my fastball so the ball has really good carry through the ‘zone. The hitters are fooled by it,” Bailey said. “They expect the ball to drop and so they are kind of swinging under the ball and the ball stays true and doesn’t have that normal gravity drop. Even though my fastball is low-90s, like 92, 93, it still seems like it’s getting on the hitters pretty quick because I am able to throw it up in ‘zone.”
Stockton manager Rick Magnante has been impressed with how Bailey has been able to utilize his fastball.
“He has a fastball that has a little late life to it. He can get it up in the ‘zone and they can’t get to it and if he stays down in the ‘zone with that late life, it starts out below or at the bottom of the strike-zone and somehow creeps in,” Magnante said. “That rising fastball is advantageous for him.”
Bailey says pitching up in the strike-zone has required a change in mindset.
“You are taught from when you are a young kid: ‘keep the ball down, keep the ball down,’” Bailey said. “It’s the total opposite for me in the sense that they’re encouraging me to throw the ball up in the strike-zone just because it plays to my advantage. I think right now fastball-up is my go-to pitch.”
Bailey has also had to make an adjustment to being part of a tandem starter system for most of the season. He began the year as part of an eight-man tandem in Beloit, pitching every four days. When the A’s moved away from the eight-man tandem five weeks into the season, Bailey got his own start day, but injured his groin and had to be shut down for a few weeks. Once he returned, he had to rebuild his pitch count. Now with Stockton, he is part of a piggyback rotation and is limited to five innings or less in every outing. That system cost Bailey a chance for a special start on July 17 in Rancho Cucamonga, when he threw five one-hit innings against the Quakes. He needed only 62 pitches to get through those five innings, but he was pulled to allow his tandem rotation partner to get his four innings in.
Although pitching in a tandem rotation is new to Bailey, he views it as an opportunity to continue his education as a professional pitcher.
“It’s definitely been a new experience, but I think it has been a good one nonetheless,” Bailey said of the tandem system. “When you move up, you hear about all of these starters that are in Double-A and Triple-A that might get the big call and they go straight to the bullpen. Having that experience in the lower levels and that familiarity of what that is like to come into the middle of an inning, or maybe just come in out of the bullpen with a fresh sixth inning, that plays into your advantage as you work higher up into the different levels.
“I don’t want to say it’s rare, but at the same time, it’s probably extremely difficult just to jump right into the starting rotation at the big league level as a young guy. It’s been a little bit of a challenge trying to find my rhythm, but at the same time, I think you’ve got to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I think that is helping me prepare really well.”
As the season progresses, Bailey will continue to focus on building off of what he has learned thus far.
“For me, the biggest thing is to continually work on my off-speed pitches. My slider, the spiked curve or this cutter that I might be throwing,” Bailey said. “I always felt comfortable with my four-seam fastball and my change-up. In college, that was my bread-and-butter, and it has been here, too, but I feel like to reach my full potential, I need those off-speed pitches to be at least big league average, and hopefully, a bit better.
“It’s nice to see the progress that I have made with all of those pitches in this first full season. I couldn’t be happier.”
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