Brewers prospect Brae Wright was nice enough to break away from his relaxing offseason to talk with us on the phone. And before we knew it, almost a half hour passed… The 6′5″ lefty starter was drafted by the Brewers in 2006 in the sixth round out of Oklahoma State.
He’s shot up the Brewers’ system ever since, advancing at least one level each season and he will likely start the 2009 season in Nashville. His great 2008 season in Huntsville has garnered him some more attention as a prospect to watch and he currently sits at #27 on the BrewerFan Power 50 and the BrewerFan Top Prospect Fan Poll.
You can listen to the interview here:
Alright, this is Jared with Right Field Bleachers and I have Brae Wright on the phone. I’m just going to ask a few questions.
I guess first off, how’s the offseason going for you so far?
Pretty good, man. I guess just trying to get prepared for this upcoming season, just the day-to-day working out, throwing, dealing with the winter weather and that’s pretty much it as far as the baseball is concerned.
And you pitched on the Taxi Squad in the Arizona Fall League this fall, right?
How was that experience for you?
It was fun. It was, you know, along with getting to meet different people from different organizations and kind of getting a taste for how different organizations run things and things of that nature, it was a good experience. The competition is obviously a high level. You get to see a lot of great competition, basically. So, it’s fun and it gives you a chance to measure yourself up. You see well, this is supposed to be the upper echelon of prospects or whatever, so it’s fun to see how you do against those guys.
I think if I was looking at the stats right, you were used mostly as a reliever down there. Will you be starting again in 2009?
As far as I know. Unless there are some changes within the organization, I think that that’s kind of the plan for now. You know, that’s not really my decision, but as far as I know, I’ll still be starting, yeah.
Is that what you’d prefer too?
I enjoy it. I enjoy starting. You know, it was different because when I was out there, I was strictly relief. I was throwing one or two innings here and there, which is fun. It’s a little bit different. I think it’s a different mindset altogether, but it’s definitely a challenge in itself, the difference between the two, but both are fun and I enjoy doing both. You know, whatever. Whatever it takes.
Can you give us a little scouting report on yourself? What kind of pitches do you throw?
Two-seam fastball. I’ve played with throwing a cutter also. Slider. Change-up. Curveball. That’s it.
Do you have an out pitch, one you like to go to in that kind of a situation?
You know what? If I would have to just pick one, I guess I would say the slider. You know, you get guys in a favorable pitcher’s count, I’d say I’d go with the slider.
I think I saw that your fastball tops out in the high 80's usually, is that right?
Yeah, I mean, high 80's, low 90's. I never really throw, I don’t get any higher than that really. So, I’d say low 90's would be my top out. To be honest with you, I kind of quit keeping up with that, but I know that I touched in the 90s somewhere along the way. That’s not really my forte, throwing hard, but I’ve gotten up there a little bit.
Yeah, and how do you make up for not having that overpowering fastball?
I think it’s been a learning process, but it’s definitely keeping hitters off balance, mixing it up, keeping the ball down in the zone and trying to create as much movement as possible and mixing up your locations as well with different pitches.
Is there a Major League pitcher that you sort of model your game after or that you think is comparable to you?
I don’t necessarily model my game after any pitcher in particular, but there are definitely pitchers that I see myself, I guess, comparable to. What’s the guy there for the Cubs? The lefty? Rich Hill maybe?
Yeah, Rich Hill is a younger guy on the team.
(Editor’s Note: In retrospect, he might have been trying to think of Sean Marshall, who seems to compare pretty favorably with him. Hill is also a lefty, but he has a strikeout curveball, whereas Marshall is more of a contact pitcher, like Wright)
I see them, you know, when I watch a Major League game. I’ll say, “OK, that guy has kind of got comparable stuff.” Suppan is somewhat of a good example, I guess. You know, a guy that doesn’t throw with overpowering stuff, but gets guys outs through making them make contact. Kind of a Tom Glavine-esque pitcher. I’m not going to be your no. 1, no. 2 starter type guy that overpowers guys or has a really overpowering curveball or something like that. You know, basically just a grinder.
Sure, relying on hitting your spots and eating up some innings then?
Basically, yes, that’s kind of the game plan is to get through the game as much as you can and keep the runs down and give the bullpen some relief, eat as many innings as you can and go from there.
Have you been told where you’ll be starting out in 2009?
I have not. That stuff kind of pans itself out once you get to Spring Training. They kind of give you some sort of expectations, but they’re never really that upfront with you, saying “Oh, you’re definitely going to be here” or whatever, but they can kind of shed a little light on the subject to kind of give you some encouragement like, “You had a great year.” I mean, they never really came right out and said anything to me, but hopefully I’ll be able to move up.
If you do start out in Nashville, let’s say, what do you think your goals are for the year?
Kind of what I started last year. My goal last year was to kind of get back on the map with the organization. You know, I didn’t start off as hot with my career or whatever so my goal was to get back on the map. And now I guess my goal is to kind of just keep it going. I feel like I’ve somewhat put myself back on the map with the Brewers and so basically it’s just to continue to do what I’ve been doing. You know, there are some areas of improvement obviously that you can always be doing, but basically my goal is to just do well and stay consistent and healthy throughout the year.
In 2007, things started out kind of rough for you in West Virginia, but you seemed to put it together later on in the year and you moved up to Brevard County. Did things just start clicking for you as the season moved on? What happened?
It did. I think kind of what happened is I started off the year and things were a little rocky. We made several different mechanical…we toyed with different things mechanically to try to figure out some things that would work and improve my game a little bit. And, basically, I developed a really good relationship with the pitching coach and he said, “You know, it’s a thing where you’re going to have to take your bumps and bruises if you’re willing to do that in order to advance your career” by doing things like picking up a little more movement on my fastball and learning how to pitch off of that and just improving all my offspeed pitches. Basically, it took a while for all that stuff to start clicking.
It was like I told him, we sat there and talked about it after this year, I saw him and I was like, “Do you remember those times where every game it seemed like I was giving up four and five and six runs and, you know, not throwing that many?” We just kind of laughed about it after that because it just got to a point where just one game it was like a lightbulb went off and it just started feeling more natural. And not to say, “Oh, well, now that that happened, everything is just going to be hunky-dory,” but from that point on, I learned that based off of getting my brains beat in for half of a season, if not more, I had to bounce back from that. And he kind of alluded to that and said “If you ever have those bad games, this is what you have to do to bounce back from it.” I think that was the main thing I took from that season. So, it’s kind of good that it happened in a sense. I learned how to get out of that funk a little bit quicker than letting it last half the season. But, yeah, it was pretty rough the first part of the season there.
When you did start having that success in Brevard County, you really built on it and you had a nice season in Huntsville last year. That’s supposed to be a pretty big jump up to AA. Why do you think it went so well for you?
Again, that was a good building point for me, going back to the West Virginia year in ‘07. I get a glimpse of, I guess, confidence and it just kind of took off from there and then I finished it off in Brevard and did well there. So, it really get my confidence back and from there, I went into Spring Training with a little more confidence. I got to Spring Training with that same mindset and that’s just kind of what happened. I just had a little more confidence. I went in like it was no big deal and took it into Spring Training, did well there and got there and was just kind of like “It’s now or never to prove yourself.” That’s kind of the mindset I took.
And it wasn’t that easy saying “Hey, well, you know, it’s now or never, let’s just do it and see what happens.” It took a lot of sitting down with the pitching coach and going in and watching film and really learning how to pitch and doing more homework on the hitters and having more of a gameplan. So, it was kind of like the combination of OK, now I know that I’ve got good enough stuff to get the job done, but to one up that, this is what you have to do. You know, you can have good stuff and still get hit around. It was a good learning process. I think I just was more willing to learn quicker when I got past the fact that it wasn’t the fact that my stuff wasn’t good enough. So, I didn’t second-guess myself. It was just learning what to do with the stuff that I have.
And what do what do you think you need to do to make it the Major League level? Is there a part of your game that you want to focus on?
Yeah, I think at this point it’s just to continue to do what I’ve been doing and obviously you want to not make as many mistakes. I mean, not that I made a huge amount of mistakes, but that’s the difference between guys at the level I’m at and guys that are in the Major Leagues. They make less mistakes because there is less room for mistakes. So, it’s just the fact of being prepared when you get there. You don’t want to make those mistakes over the middle of the plate or whatever. So, I think the more consistent I can be and the better control that I have, the more prepared I’ll be to be there. To be honest with you, I don’t think that I’m going to wake up one morning and have a 95-mile-per-hour fastball and a hammer or whatever. I think it’s just a matter of not making as many mistakes or the least amount I can make.
What player that you’ve played with in the minors do you think will have the most success on the Major League level? One of your teammates?
That Huntsville team, man, last year was stacked with them. I mean, aside from the obvious, you’ve got Escobar and Gamel. I mean, I think Escobar is going to be an unbelievable player at the Major League level. He may or may not win your hitting title, but he’ll be making plays that are Web Gems on a nightly basis I would think. And Gamel, with the way he hits, it was just impressive. I mean, other teams would come in town talking about it. I mean, I didn’t really go into any other town talking about what some of the hitters were doing. Just to have guys from other teams coming in talking about our team, and especially him, at the time he was hitting in the .380s and this was like midway through the season. It was just impressive. It was fun to watch.
Yeah, do you think he was slowed by injuries in the second half?
You know, he’s not the type of person that you would ever know if anything was bothering him. I think he mentioned late in the season that his arm was just kind of sore feeling or whatever, but you know he’s a tough kid and I think at that point in the season everybody is playing through a little something. It’s one of those things that with that many games it’s very rare that you’re going to be 100 percent. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it or not. Like I said, it’s hard to know because everybody is going to have some sort of nag, but I think that just with as well as he was doing, it’s kind of impossible to think that somebody can hit close to .400 an entire season. You know what I mean? Yeah, maybe his numbers dropped a little bit at the end, but I think maybe it was just because they were so far up there, they had nowhere to go. Like I said, I’m not real sure what caused that.
As a pitcher, you had to appreciate those Web Gems that Escobar was making behind you, huh?
Oh man, it was awesome. I remember, it was really funny, because before I left Spring Training, one of our pitching coaches, he’s at a different level, but I used to talk to him a lot, he was alluding to the fact that we might not have Escobar for the entire season because he might get promoted or whatever, but he said, “If you have more than three or four walks in 10 starts if he’s there, if you’re lucky enough to have him for that long, you might as well walk behind the stadium and,” you know, he was being funny, but he said, “you might as well just take your own life back there if you walk more than three people.” He goes, “You might as well just throw it to the hitter. You know it’s almost a sure out if it’s on the ground anywhere on that side of the field.” It was pretty funny because, at that point, I hadn’t really played with him and then I knew kind of what he meant once I got there. It’s definitely, it’s something that it makes it a lot easier whenever you’re pitching to know that you’ve got a solid defense behind you and he’s a big part of that.
Yeah, especially with the kind of pitcher you are, right? Because you’re trying to make contact, trying to get groundballs?
Exactly. I mean, if I can get a guy out on the first couple pitches and get him to roll over something and, you know, anything on the ground, I consider that job done, man, I did it. Again, that’s just the kind of the pitcher that I am, but, like you were saying, it definitely makes life a whole lot easier when you have guys like that out there.
If you do make it up to Milwaukee as a starter, you’re going to have to take some at bats. How do you handle the bat?
Oh man, I did alright this year, I think. It was definitely a new experience. If you think about it, for most of us pitchers, if you went to college, you’re talking about the last time we picked up a bat, for most of us, was in high school. So, to go from hitting in high school and then however many years — three, four, five years or whatever — and then jumping right into AA pitching, it’s kind of a little bit different. But it’s not intimidating whatsoever. For me, it’s really fun. The majority of the times you get up there, you’ve got some sort of objective. Most of the time, it’s bunting. So, that’s not too bad. There’ll be at bats where you may get up there and there’s nobody on base and the third base coach says “swing away” and I mean it’s fun. To me, it’s like going back to being a little kid again. You get up there and take some hacks and see what happens.
Some pitchers say that it gives you a little different perspective, seeing the pitches from the plate rather than throwing them from the mound. Did you get any of that at all?
It does because when you’re just pitching, you’re never thinking…whenever you get up there and all of a sudden you’re thinking about, “He’s probably going to come with this pitch or that pitch” and you’re trying to go along and think with him or whatever the case, I get all whacked out because I just try not to think about it. That’s just kind of my approach. But anyway, it’s definitely a different ballgame from that side of the perspective, being in the batter’s box. I cannot even imagine if I was trying to get paid to do that part of the game because it’s tough to hit man. My hat goes off to those guys. Some of those guys that are up there throwing are nasty. I mean, the majority of them are. It’s a different ballgame up there, for sure.
What are some of things you like to do when you’re not playing baseball?
These days I just really enjoy being at home here in Atlanta spending time with my wife and just enjoying the downtime from the season. I love to cook. Her and I really get into that. When we have time, we’ll do that. I’ll cook a lot. I really enjoy it. I like going fishing. A lot of times, I’ll do that during the season with some of the guys. We’ll go off fishing or something. You know, just downtime basically is what I do. These days, I basically don’t get into a whole lot.
There’s one last thing I have to clear up. On your Oklahoma State bio I saw that your favorite Major League team was St. Louis. Have your NL Central allegiances changed since your college days?
Oh, for sure, man. I think that that was just kind of because when I lived in Memphis, there was no Major League teams. I guess the closest thing was either St. Louis or Atlanta and since the Red Birds were there in Memphis, their AAA affiliate, I just kind of followed them. Guys would come up through Memphis and I would just follow them from there to St. Louis. So, it was just kind of that I liked them just because I kept up with them a little bit.
You know, now that I’m playing, things are a lot different. The only team I watch on TV is the Brewers. I pull for them and, I guess just because I got drafted by them and I’m in the organization, I’ve become a huge fan. I’m like a little kid when I’m watching their games too. It’s pretty fun watching those guys and especially because you get an opportunity to kind of meet some of them and play alongside them. You know, it’s fun. So, I think I’ve really become a pretty big Brewer fan and I probably will be if something happens and my career path takes a different road or something, I think I’ll still, because that was my first experience, I’ll think I’ll always look to the Brewers when I’m watching games or whatever.
Yeah, so that must have been pretty cool to see some of the guys you were playing with jumping up and down in the Brewers dugout at the end of the season.
Oh yeah, it was awesome. I talked to some of them. Salome got called up and Escobar and Gamel. I roomed actually with Salome in the Fall League and we sat out in the outfield and just talked about it. It’s really exciting. You can see guys’ dreams come true and it’s fun to see and hopefully a lot of guys get to experience that because I know all of these guys dream about it and it’s exciting. It really is. Even if it’s one of your good buddies. It’s always exciting. It never gets old.
Well, we all hope we see you in that dugout sooner than later.
Heck yeah, man.
Thanks a lot for the interview. We really appreciate it.
Yeah, no problem at all. Thanks for calling, man.