* LHP Taylor Bratton (Oakville, Ont.) pitched for the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent American Association last season and has been invited back. He still threw a bullpen for pro scouts when the Major League Scouting Bureau tour came to Out of the Park Sports in Scarborough.
By Alexis Brudnicki
SCARBOROUGH, Ont. – Fresh off of a successful senior season pitching for the University of West Alabama Tigers, Taylor Bratton thought he might have a shot at hearing his name called in the draft last June.
The 23-year-old southpaw saw the selection process come and go, and didn’t get the opportunity he wanted at the time to leave the Intercounty Baseball League, where he was playing for the Hamilton Cardinals. He was happy to keep on pitching, but he was still hopeful that he might be able to take the mound at the professional level.
Bratton opted to take matters into his own hands, and began contacting some teams on his own. The Winnipeg Goldeyes, of the independent American Association, got back to the Oakville native and told him that if he could meet the team when they played the Quebec Capitales during their June series in Quebec City, they would give him a chance.
“I met Winnipeg in Quebec and signed right away and then threw a bullpen so they could see me,” Bratton said. “I signed with them before I threw the bullpen. I figured it would be the other way around but I met them in the locker room, signed before the game, and then threw a bullpen at the end of the game.
“There was another rookie who was hurt at the time and that’s why I got the opportunity. Then a couple weeks later when he was healthy he came back and I [wondered] which one of us they would keep. I was throwing well so that’s how I earned the spot. I signed back with them for this year but I’m hoping to get picked up, have my contract bought, and play in affiliated ball.”
The left-hander joined one other Canadian on the Goldeyes roster, with Fruitvale, BC’s Chris Kissock leading the relief corps and closing out games in his second season with Winnipeg. In Bratton’s time with the squad, he posted a 3.07 ERA over 12 games and 14 2/3 innings out of the bullpen and soaked in everything his first professional experience had to offer.
“I had a great time,” he said. “We were playing in front of 5,000 people a night on average. The closest MLB team to them is the [Minnesota] Twins, and they are a 7 1/2 hour drive away, so we were like the big leagues for them.
“They pack it out every night [at Shaw Park] and you see the same fans every night. It’s kind of like going to major-league spring training and it’s on a real personal level with the fans. When they hear if a guy gets traded or something like that, all the fans are really upset because they knew them so well.”
While in Manitoba, Bratton spent some time experimenting with his arm slot, trying to see if a change could help propel him even further and give him a chance to play affiliated baseball.
“I was playing around one day in Winnipeg and decided to throw more sidearm than I usually do,” the 6-foot-1, 180-pound lefty said. “The pitching coach [Jamie Vermilyea] thought it might be something to fool around with and everything. I’ve been doing it since August but … I never really got comfortable with it.”
Bratton continued to throw from both his high 3/4 slot and from down under since his first experiment, but after one scout saw him this off-season and gave him some advice, the hurler decided he might stick to what he knows best and save his sidearm throwing for perhaps another time down the road.
“I threw for [a National League scout] from both arm angles and he said he liked me better up top than down low,” Bratton said. “I lost a little bit of velocity naturally but he also said I lost a lot of deception and it was easier to track from down low, which is not usually how it would go. Usually it’s tougher to track from down there. So he suggested I stay up top [and] I’m definitely more comfortable there …
“I figured if it was something that might help me get to affiliated ball then I would try it. But if someone like [the scout] says it loses deception, we can scratch that.”
Before ditching his sidearm throwing completely, Bratton threw from both slots for Jason Chee-Aloy, director of baseball operations for the Toronto Mets, and Ontario’s supervisor for the Major League Scouting Bureau. Chee-Aloy was impressed enough to invite him to return to the facility during the MLSB camp at the end of February.
Joining a number of young high school players at the camp, the left-hander threw a bullpen for the scouts in attendance, working with his four-seam fastball, circle changeup, and a spiked curveball, which he learned from pitching coach Mike Jones as a freshman, and evolved throughout his four years in college. At the Out of the Park Sports facility, Bratton threw only from his higher arm slot.
“It’s weird [going back and forth between the two slots] because I haven’t really done it a whole lot,” he said. “The hardest thing is throwing up top and then throwing down low, and then coming back up top and throwing strikes comfortably.
“I found I was leaving everything up when I went back up from throwing underneath. So I’d rather be consistent and comfortable for 100 per cent of the time than getting inconsistency from both.”
As a 23-year-old with a fastball sitting in the high 80s – having touched 92 miles per hour on occasion – Bratton knows that his biggest asset is being left-handed. He also believes he has come a long way as a pitcher throughout the time he spent in college, which has helped him develop into a much smarter and craftier hurler.
“Especially over my last two years at school, I got a better idea of myself as a pitcher and how to pitch,” he said. “It’s more about throwing the ball over the plate, letting them hit it, using the statistical advantage that pitchers have, and reducing my walks and stuff like that. That really helps, throwing the ball over the plate and letting them get themselves out, and it has allowed me to become better as a pitcher.
“Over my last two years in school I threw about 185 innings and had 28 walks, whereas my first two years I threw 89 innings and had 27 walks. It’s more about getting comfortable and knowing what level I’m at, and how to pitch better and use my strengths to my advantage.”