“Under-the-radar” would be a good way to describe the baseball career of left-handed pitcher Daniel Brown so far. The southpaw hurler’s path to pro baseball began at Tyler Junior College in Texas, and after dominating opponents to the tune of a 1.76 ERA in 71.2 innings as a freshman, he found a spot on Division I Mississippi State’s squad. He put up some solid results during the following two seasons, and after posting a 3.62 ERA in 54.2 innings as a junior, he was expecting to hear his name called during the 2016 MLB Draft. He wasn’t disappointed when the Milwaukee Brewers made him their seventh-round selection.
“I guess back junior year, we spent time with some of the scouts after games and so that’s when I first came in contact with the Brewers,” Brown told me during a recent opportunity I had to interview him. “We had one or two meetings, I think, and then I didn’t really hear much from them. We were actually in the Super Regionals at the time and we were throwing BP, and one of my buddies came out and said that the Brewers had just drafted me. So I was pretty excited. I thought I would go in the top 10 rounds, so that was good for me. There was no question about it that I was pretty excited to be a Brewer and that I was ready to get my professional career going.”
To this point, Brown has handled the transition to professional baseball rather well during. He quickly assumed the role of fireman in the bullpen for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers during his first year of full-season ball in 2017 and continued to pitch in that role on his way up the ladder for the Carolina Mudcats in 2018. So far, Brown has been called upon in 79 games as a pro and has worked to a 3.65 ERA in 140.2 innings, picking up eight saves along the way. “I would say the biggest difference from pro to college is playing everyday and throwing everyday. In college you play catch everyday, but it’s not the same intensity as it is in pro ball. And so that’s something I had to get used to, throwing everyday for a 140 game season. To where in college, you get pretty much the weekend series. So that’s the biggest thing I had to get used to. You face a lot of these hitters in pro ball that you faced in college. As you go up, the hitters get better.”
Working as a reliever has allowed Brown to focus on his best two pitches and bring a bulldog demeanor to the mound with every outing. “When I’m on the mound, what I think I bring to the table is straight up competitiveness. When a hitter steps in the box, I’m going to go at him with my best stuff, just like anybody else would. I’m mainly a fastball/slider guy, I’m going to throw the fastball and then tunnel the slider with it to try and get strikeouts late in counts and then throw sinkers as a lefty to get weak contact and ground balls. That’s kind of my repertoire, I throw a low-90s fastball and pair it with a low-mid 80s slider, and kind of work through the order and get outs like that.”
“I don’t really have a preference for [what role I pitch out the bullpen], as long as I’m coming into the game and getting outs. The adrenaline really gets pumping. I like to come in and go long relief outings cause then you can keep the team in it. It’s a different adrenaline but it’s the same amount of fun for me. I enjoy both roles and the main thing is getting your body ready to go each day, being ready to go two or three or maybe one. If you go longer outings, it’s to make sure that you get your arm care in so your body can respond and you can do it again as soon as you can.”
When I pressed him further about what his ideal future role would be, the “Josh Hader” who shuts things down in the middle innings or the “Jeremy Jeffress” who shuts the door in the ninth inning for a save, I did coax Daniel into offering this: “I like the middle relief probably the best. I enjoy both of the roles, I guess when the time comes I’ll do whatever I need to in the big leagues.”
Whereas starters operate on a regular, every-fifth-day type of schedule, it can be more difficult for relievers to develop a consistent routine and ensure they’re always ready to go when needed. For Daniel, the one of the biggest keys is going through the proper recovery procedures after an outing, which may differ based on the role he’s asked to fill. “You make sure you get your staff work in for your shoulders, then you want to do a lot of conditioning the next day just to flush out some of that fluid from your body. If I go multiple innings, I usually try to get in a good lift in the next day. Upper body lift. If it’s just one, maybe just a quick little activation lift to get the body to respond to something and get going so you’re not too sore that next night.”
One of Brown’s goals for the 2018 season was to earn an invite to the prestigious Arizona Fall League, where some of the top prospects from around the game are invited to play. He was not only able to accomplish his goal of reaching the AFL, but showed exceedingly well during his nine outings for the Peoria Javelinas. Brown yielded only four earned runs in 12.0 innings, striking out 17 of the 48 batters he faced while issuing only four walks. I asked him about the experience.
“It was after a game in Carolina this year, they brought me into the office and told me I was going [to the Arizona Fall League] and my first thoughts were like “oh, that’s awesome” because that was one of the goals I set out for this year, to try and get an invite to the Fall League. So when that happened, I was pretty stoked about it because I kind of had an up and down year so that was just good to hear. Going there, I wanted to focus on getting back to myself, challenging the hitters and going after them. I kind of walked too many people this year. I feel like down there I got back into that mentality of attacking hitters and trying to force contact, so over the six weeks I was there that really worked out for me.”
“We got bi-weekly salaries and so that was nice, so we were able to have some extra money so we were able to eat comfortably and enjoy ourselves. [As far as coaching in the AFL goes], it kind of depends on what you’re looking for. They said if you ever need any help with anything, they’re there for you. If you have any questions or concerns then you can just ask them and they’ll work with you. If they see something when you’re throwing a bullpen that they think would help, they’ll suggest it to you and you can try it. They pretty much let us run our own show because it’s about development down there. It was good for our two coaches, they did a good job of putting a couple of ideas to think about and if you want to try them, you go ahead and do them. I think a lot of guys like that.”
Brown’s main focus, obviously, is working with his own coaches within the Brewers organization to improve his game and make it to the big leagues. In that vein, the front office and coaching staff have really opened his eyes to how to synthesize and apply all the analytical information that is available to players these days.
“I’m really big into [the analytics of baseball]. I never knew anything about the analytics of baseball, and then my junior year of college, our pitching coach Wes Johnson, who just got hired by the Twins to be the big league pitching coach, he kind of introduced us to Trackman and everything. Kind of learning how our pitches play off each other.”
“So with the Brewers, they give you that kind same information about tunneling pitches, different spin rates, and how much movement they have. It’s easier to learn from that and then I can game plan out that if I want to throw a fastball in this area, then I need to throw a slider into this area, to tunnel it the best way that you can. I think analytics has really opened up a lot of eyes in baseball so you can take your stuff to the next level.”
“Mainly we’ve been working with being more consistent with your mechanics. Over a long season, it’s easy to slip up on mechanics and start feeling something a little wrong that affects your pitches. So the big thing with the Brewers and me is trying to consistently practice and repeat my delivery as good as I can so that I can keep throwing my best pitches over and over again.”
“All the coaches kind of tell you to tunnel your pitches together. Because, as Chris [Hook] says, you know a lot of hitters can tell if you’re not throwing out of the same release window. So if you’re throwing a fastball from one release window, and then your curveball is from a little different arm slot, then the good hitters can pick that up instantly. You feel like the good pitchers in the pros, like Josh Hader is one of them who the fastball and slider is unbelievable. Then you play in with his spin rate and everything, and that’s why nobody can hit him.”
My ears perked up at Brown’s mention of Chris Hook, who was recently promoted from his role as Milwaukee’s minor league pitching coordinator to take over for Derek Johnson as the big league pitching coach. There isn’t a ton of information out there about Hook, who has been working in various roles within the organization for more than a decade, so I asked Daniel what kind of insight he can offer:
“He’s a great guy. I was able to work with him my first couple of years going to instructs when he was the AA pitching coach, I was able to work with him a little bit and see who he was. He’s a great energized guy, he wants to win and help the pitchers the best he can. Working with him during that, and then this year as the pitching coordinator he’d come to town a couple times a year. It was always good to see him, he’s always energetic and wanting to help everyone and get everyone better to where we can all eventually help the Brewers win on the big stage. I think Milwaukee fans will be really happy with what he does with the big league staff.”
“Instruction [with Chris Hook] is all individual. He’s the one that kind of showed me the analytical side of some of the stuff my pitches do. He’s the one that gave me that knowledge like “your fastball does this and your slider does this so if you throw your fastball here and your slider here, you’ll have better success.” So I think he’s going to do with that with everybody. Figuring out what each pitcher does best and trying to improve that to make each pitcher better.”
Like most minor league ballplayers, Daniel is enjoying his offseason as best he can while also working a little bit on the side. “I just kind of help out with this junior college where I stay at, not like a regular assistant but that same kind of work. If I wasn’t playing, in the future I would want to be a coach, so it’s just fun right now to kind of get my feet wet with that, being around a team.” He is trying not to get too far ahead of himself, but he’s still put a little bit of thought towards what he’s looking to accomplish in 2019. “We’ll have to kind of see when the teams are put out in Spring Training and then I’ll kind of put together a goal that I have in mind. For right now, it’s just to stay healthy for the full year and just try to make it as far as I possibly can and help each team on the way.”
To this writer, it seems like a solid bet that Daniel Brown will be tasked with making the jump from Class A-Advanced to AA Biloxi next season, which is considered to be one of the most challenging developmental steps for a minor leaguer. But he appears to have all the tools needed - the “stuff,” the drive, and the help from coaches - in order to continue successfully climbing the minor league ladder. As Milwaukee continues to pioneer this “new-age” usage of their pitching staff, they could very well be grooming someone like Daniel Brown to fit right in with their “27-outs” philosophy.
You can follow Daniel Brown on Twitter @DRBrown_3.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference