The first two outings of his first full season have been the only major roadblocks faced by Beloit Snappers pitcher Brandon Bailey, as the Oakland Athletics 2016 sixth-round pick has used a more complete arsenal of pitches to navigate his way through opposing Midwest League lineups.
Ever since allowing six earned runs on seven hits in his first six innings (one start and one relief appearance), Bailey has settled down in a big way.
The former Gonzaga standout went nine straight appearances without surrendering more than one earned run, and he allowed just four runners to cross home plate in that span of 32 innings. His impressive command of the strike-zone also played a big role in his turnaround, as he posted a 39:7 K:BB rate during the run. The only thing keeping Bailey down during that stretch was a short stint on the disabled list.
“I felt like I wasn’t myself those first couple starts. I was putting a little too much pressure on myself and trying to do a little too much,” said Bailey, Oakland’s 30th-ranked prospect heading into the 2017 season. “Once I simplified the game, I was able to concentrate on the next batter up to the plate, one pitch at a time and regaining confidence in my stuff.
“The whole month of May I felt really good. I had a little stint on the DL for seven days after tweaking my groin, but besides that minor setback I feel like this season has gone pretty smoothly. I think I’ve accomplished all the goals that I was hoping to accomplish early on.”
Bailey’s solid first full professional season comes on the heels of an impressive debut summer with the AZL A’s and short-season Vermont last year.
After a successful two-appearance debut in Mesa in which he allowed one earned run on seven hits in five innings, Bailey finished up his 2016 season in the New York-Penn League. He appeared in 10 games, including five starts, with the Lake Monsters and posted a 3.08 ERA. Bailey’s K:BB rate was 42:9 in 38 innings.
Armed with a four-seam fastball, change-up and curveball when he was drafted, Bailey has added another breaking ball since turning pro. Having four pitches that he can throw for strikes has allowed Bailey to carve up MWL hitters with ease.
“I’m slowly incorporating a knuckle-curve and it’s been a pitch that’s slowly progressing,” Bailey said. “I mixed in a couple at the very end of Vermont last year, and then this offseason continued to try and fine-tune and get comfortable with it. Even today, I wouldn’t say I’m 110-percent comfortable throwing it in any count.
“Right now, I’m trying to get it as more of a get-me-over breaking pitch, so that way the slider can be a strike-out pitch later in the at-bats. Having two breaking balls as a starter can be extremely beneficial, just for a different look for the hitter. That way they’re not just sitting on that one breaking ball. Having that speed differential between a curve and a slider is beneficial.”
Bailey has used his four pitches to compile a 2.51 ERA in 43 innings. His run of consecutive appearances allowing one earned run or less ended last Thursday in Burlington, but Bailey still threw well against the Bees, going five innings and allowing two earned runs on four hits while striking out six and walking three.
Now that he’s moved out of a tandem starting pitching role and into a traditional starter’s role, Bailey has been able to work on sharpening his stuff even more given his longer stints on the mound.
“Going into that [tandem] thing was a little bit of an adjustment for me early on,” he said. “I had never been a part of something like that before. I think you have a have a different mindset. You’ve only got four innings and 65 pitches, so you’ve really got to be locked in from the get-go.
“In college, you know you’ve got your six, seven, eight innings, so you can have a longer inning and higher pitch count, but I know that I’ve got six more innings where I can have a quick one. Now I get to keep my own day and will need to keep performing, but it’s nice knowing each start is going to be yours. Mentally, you can prepare yourself between starts to get ready for that.”
As the Snappers start seeing opposing clubs for the second time, mid-season is often an adjustment period for pitchers and batters alike when more detailed scouting reports become available. However, for Bailey, it seemed his biggest bout with adversity was in mid-April.
“I think it hit me right at the very start of the season,” Bailey said. “I performed really well in spring training and got here to Beloit, but everything was a different feel from college and Vermont. I was asked to do this hybrid routine with the rotation, and that was my biggest adjustment period.
“I needed to figure out how to get my bearings and how to get back to what I do best, which is just attacking the hitters. There was a confidence drop in those first couple starts, and I tried to nip it in the bud as quick as I could. I’ve been able to smooth it out, which has been nice.”
If Bailey continues his recent run of success, he could be in line for another adjustment period in the second half of the season…pitching for High-A Stockton in the California League.