Thursday, September 13, 2018

2018 Exit Interview: LHP Aaron Brown

Aaron Brown, image- Jay Floyd
Aaron Brown was a two-way player at Pepperdine, standing out both as an outfielder as well as a pitcher.  The Phillies' 3rd round draft selection in 2014 was slated to play exclusively on the offensive side after signing that year.  After reaching the Double-A level and seeing his batting average come in under .225, he was switched back to the pitching role last year.

During the final week of the 2018 season, I talked with the 26-year-old left-hander about the transition and his first full year pitching in the professional ranks.

Read ahead for my exclusive interview with Aaron.


-It’s been more than a year since your transition from outfielder to pitcher took place. Talk about the past year with the move that you made.

Honestly, it was a big opportunity for me to make that transition at the time and I just took full advantage of it. It was towards the end of the year last year. I started my pitching program June 2nd, I believe, when I came down from Double-A to Florida. I finished the year in High A there, once I got the arm into shape and threw a couple games in the (Gulf Coast League). But this year, was my first full year pitching and I’ve had some success thus far with staying healthy, so there’s a lot of positives for this year. And the main thing is just to make sure I’m staying locked in with my mechanics, just not trying to do too much and find those mechanics, keep them sound and work on location with the fastball and work on secondary pitches that I had from college. It’s just change up, slider right now. But I’m working on developing some other pitches and just it’s been a fun ride. It’s been a pretty smooth transition. It’s been a lot of fun.

I basically work off my fastball. My slider’s my second best pitch with the fastball, so if I can get ahead with the fastball and just stay ahead and out pitch with the slider—that was my repertoire in college and so I’m trying to stay with that and work with the catchers on how to approach the hitters up here. Obviously, they’re a better caliber than what I faced down in Florida. So, for me, making this transition so quickly it’s important for me to work with them and figure out how to pitch instead of just throw. So, that’s been a huge thing for me this year.

-What’s the velocity been like for you and was there a build-up time for you to get back to or exceed where you had been in college?

Yeah, I mean the velocity has been good pretty much all season. It was good in college, but now that I haven’t thrown in a while, it’s even better this year. I don’t know exactly where I’ve been on average but I know down in Florida I was up to 97. You know, here I’ve been up to 95, 96. So, that’s huge for me to know the arm strength is there and to know I can get up to there when I need it. Staying healthy is the key. Staying on my arm program and the care, you know, they’ve got a great program here, so we’re going to just follow that and work with the pitching coach and it’s all been really good.

-Where does it compare to college velo?

In college I would sit anywhere from 91, 92 up to 94. But I was only throwing once a week in college. I was starting on Sundays, so now that I’m in the bullpen, not throwing too many innings each outing, I can go out there and light it up sometimes here and there and that’s when I found out I can get back up there 95, 96, 97, so I saw it the other night too. So, that was a good sign at the end of the season that I can keep the arm strength up and know that it’s still there.

-Is there any pitchers’ batting practice for you to take at this level to get back and enjoy that other side of the game from time to time?

You know, we did that down in Florida in High A. We did about once a month. It was fun. And then I came up here and there wasn’t too much of that going on. But, recently we had some guys go down, so obviously me having my background in the outfield I was able to take some batting practice in case another guy went down, I was going to be the fourth outfielder. Especially for the National League series. So, it was fun being able to swing the bat a little bit, getting out there, being able to feel it again. You know, it’s something I’ll always love to do. It was my first position and my first love in the game, so it was definitely fun to get out there and take some swings and be ready to go, in case of emergencies. It was good to know I still had it.

-Is there anyone on the Threshers pitching staff or the Reading pitching staff that helped you adapt to the bullpen and the know level or excel in the new role.

Yeah, starting down in Florida it was really encouraging, ‘cause all the guys down there are more experienced and have more years pitching professionally, so just to pick their brains and to work with them on things was good. And then coming up here, these guys have been battling in Double-A, it’s a much higher level and getting to pick their brains as well and just work with them and my throwing partner Seth McGarry has been helpful with some different grips and he’s worked with me every single day, making sure my arm slot stays the same angle and that kind of stuff. Everybody out here in the bullpen has been a huge help. With their experience at this level it has been huge for me to watch them and how they go about things. And then also working with the pitching coach, (Steve Schrenk) and even the starters come around once in a while and I can ask them questions too. It’s just helped a lot.

-You mentioned a couple times, I think, consistency and mechanics and I know Schrenky’s big on that- repetition and making sure guys can stick with that sort of thing. If you can speak to that, maybe what advice or paths Shrenk or Fultz suggest to help out with that.

Yeah, definitely. They definitely stress that we get our “dry work” in, sort of shadow work (throwing without a ball, sometimes holding a towel for resistance) if you want to call it that. But I try to get out there after we stretch and throw, hop on the mound and do anywhere from 15 to 20 reps out of the stretch and out of the wind up, just work on my mechanics, feel my stride, feel the arm coming through and just repeat that delivery over and over. And that helps a lot, over the course of a season, making sure you don’t fall out of your sound mechanics and get into any bad habits. You know I have done that here and there, but I work hard to get back into it each time I start to feel something go wrong, I just get back on the mound, do more reps and hopefully find it again.

-When the concept of switching to pitching was brought to the table last year, is that something you welcomed? Were you excited? Did your heart sink for a second before you can get excited? How did you react?

You know, it was tough at first. Obviously, I fully believed in myself that I would be able to figure it out at the plate and knew I could play the outfield at the big league level and they knew that as well. But it was a little streaky with the bat, so when they sat me down I had a feeling it was going to be this opportunity because they knew that I pitched in college and threw well. So, for me it was exciting and kind of a bummer all in one. 

But I went home that night, thought about it, called my parents, talked to all my family back at home, agents, talked to my girlfriend, made the decision that this is a good opportunity for me. Left-handed pitcher in the Phillies organization is a great opportunity. In any organization. But, knowing that I had the background in pitching, it was just really exciting and wanted to make sure that I took full advantage of the opportunity. And I believe that I have.

-When it’s brought to you, was it an inquiry or an approach to feel you out, or was it an assertion like, “Hey this is what we want to do with you”?

No, not at all. They sat me down and just asked me if it was something that I would like to do. So, it was definitely an option for me. So, like I said, they gave me the option. I wasn’t an assertion. It wasn’t anything like that. They presented me with the opportunity and in my head, I’m like, “Hey this is amazing that they’re giving me the opportunity to continue my career and continuing my dream of playing in Major League Baseball. Like I said, I went home, thought about it and the next day I was like, “I’m all for it. Let’s do this!” And I was all in from that day till today.

-The year you were drafted, how was the decision made to choose if you would be an offensive guy or pitch?

Before the draft, they had asked me what I like to do more and I told them I like to play every day. The game’s meant to be played every single day. I like to play the game hard. I like to play every day. And playing in the outfield is second nature to me and I know in my heart that I love that. And they know that too. So, they—I think in the war room they were split 50-50. But I know the upper guys wanted to see me play the outfield and watch me hit and see me play the game. And I’m very thankful that they let me do that for a while. And there were definitely flashes of being able to make it as an outfielder. But now that the opportunity came up to start pitching, it’s been a fun ride and it’s been a huge blessing to me.

-Deivi Grullon is passing by while we chat, an all-star standout and a young but tenured pro catcher. Has he been a big help to you?

Huge help. And both catchers we have here have been awesome, but Deivi and Austin behind the dish. I can throw to them with ease, knowing they’re going to call a good game. And if I just do my job and try to locate my pitches and make good pitches in big counts and situations, then we’re gonna be alright because they know the game well, they know the hitters well and the read swings very well.  So for me it makes my job easy.  I get the sign and I just throw it in there.  They're working hard back there.  They're brick walls back there, so I'm thankful for both of them working with me and all our pitchers do.

-Any off-season ball plans for you this off-season?

No.  I think they're protecting my arm.  They've got an innings limit on me this year and I'm pretty close to it.  So, I will not be playing any winter ball or fall ball or anything like that.  I'll just be working on my mechanics and training and getting stronger and healthy for next season. 
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