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Visiting the video room: Pop up prospect Beau Brieske

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A late round pick that is picking up some steam.

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

So far this year, Detroit Tigers’ minor leaguer Beau Brieske’s name has popped up with a few stellar performances. It’s not a name that most people may know considering the Detroit Tigers selected him in the 27th round out of Colorado State University Pueblo in the 2019 draft. Pitchers taken that late have to work harder for their recognition than those taken higher, but Brieske has done that so far in 2021.

Starting with an uphill battle, Brieske quickly earned a promotion out of rookie ball in 2019 after striking out 28 batters in 17.1 innings of work. He was sent straight to High-A, which at the time was Lakeland. He totaled three innings where he struck out three and gave up a run.

Fast forward to this year and he remains in High-A, this time around though it’s West Michigan with the minor league realignment. He’s thrown 17.2 innings and posted a 3.06 ERA with 23 strikeouts. That is fairly consistent from his debut year to this one. A big, and notable, difference is in his walks. He totaled 10 walks in his 20.1 total innings in 2019. Well in his 2021 innings he has yet to walk a batter.

One of the most interesting aspects of watching Brieske work is that he’s very clearly a thinking pitcher. He knows what he wants to do to try an exploit a weakness he sees in the batter. It more normal for him to run through three signs with the catcher than it is for him to like the first sign he’s sees.

The start I watched to gather this was his start from May 20th against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Brieske went six innings and struck out nine. Big shoutout to the Wisconsin stream, it’s a good one.

Fastball

Brieske uses his fastball a lot and generally it goes well. From a righty the velocity is fairly pedestrian, but it’s ticked up a bit this season after Brieske spent the off time in 2020 putting in extra time in the weight room. It’ll generally sit in around 93 mph range, but he has touched as high as 96 mph this season.

The first thing to know about this fastball is that it’s the epitome of moving it around the zone. There are plenty of pitchers, usually with good velocity, who like to sit in the same general location. That is not the case with Brieske.

So that brings us to the GIFs. In terms of locating the fastball, he does like working the ball inside and outside through most of the at bat. As with many pitchers, he likes to elevate it too and gets more whiffs when he sets up the high fastball and executes. It does play up there as long as he doesn’t catch too much of the zone.

While elevating is fine and dandy, busting a low 90’s fastball inside is the real challenge. Hitters can turn on that pitch, but they have trouble doing so against Brieske. That is on display here.

What kind of person would mention that Brieske can get away with spotting up inside then not explain how? Don’t worry, I have another GIF.

When talking about sequencing, a lot of shine is given to changing speeds. And that is a great way to do it. One of the more difficult things to do is sequence by location. It all has to do with perceived velocity to the hitter. Stay with me. Let’s say Brieske throws three fastballs at 93 mph, one elevated, one outside, then one inside. After seeing that ball up, theoretically the perceived velocity will make the 93 mph fastball low and in look faster.

It works for all locations, too, if done well. Like this whiff on an outside fastball. Although this one happens to be the hardest he threw all day at 94 mph.

The last thing to mention about the fastball is that it holds its velocity deep into starts. In this particular start he went six innings. In the sixth inning, he got a strikeout on a fastball at 93 MPH.

There are some things to like with this fastball. Credit Brieske with being able to command it around the zone and set it up well with his other pitches. At this level, that’s enough to handle young minor league hitters. This is one of those fastballs that begs for more data to investigate if there’s potential to tune in a little more movement. Deception from a bit of a tricky arm slot and solid command may have more to do with the early success then the heater’s movement profile.

Slider

Much like his fastball, Brieske likes to work the slider to both sides of the plate. This was his most often used secondary in our looks, though when all is going well it’s not necessarily his best. The slider sits in the low 80’s, and it is a new pitch for him, developed in his 2020 work as well. It can be fairly adept at generating whiffs unless he begins to lean on it too much. Here is an example of that, despite the less than ideal location.

In terms of shape the slider does get good depth. There some really nice sweeping sliders, but sweep and depth serve much different purposes. Sweeping sliders have horizontal movement that will specialize in weak contact. Brieske’s offering has more two plane movement as long as he stays on top of the ball through his release, getting some horizontal break but with bat missing depth. That kind of movement is more conducive to getting swings and misses.

It’s nice to see Brieske worth the breaking pitch to both sides, especially against lefties. The fact that it plays to both righties and lefties certainly helps his case.

Just to back up the fact that I say he works it to both sides, I have to show him front dooring a righty. On top of that, this speaks to the sheer volume he uses the slider, since this is an 0-0 pitch.

This was by far his most consistent, therefore primary, secondary in our views. Arguably that would make it his best. I don’t believe it is, however. The slider is a solid pitch that helps the sequencing and adds another weapon to a reasonably deep arsenal. Brieske can get whiffs, but he can also rely on the pitch too much for what is still a pretty average slider. When he does, or if he throws a flat one in the zone, it’s getting barreled. Overall, it’s a quality pitch for him, and as it’s still a new offering, it’s possible he adds a little feel for it and potentially improves his results.

Changeup

I’ve hinted that Brieske’s best pitch is yet to come. Well, here it is. There is not another pitch in this arsenal that creates as many whiffs as the changeup when it is working. This was Brieske’s go-to secondary in college, and he shows a comfort level with it that you like to see.

The fun part about a changeup is that you can look at data, but truly it’s more about what it looks like than any other traits. There are numbers that can tell you things like if the pitcher can kill lift, among some others, but for the most part the pitch has to play to be considered good. Brieske’s changeup definitely plays.

When looking into changeups, the first thing I look for is velocity separation. It’s as simple as it sounds, just the difference in velo from the fastball. Generally the school of thought is that 10 mph is ideal. Brieske compliments a low-90’s fastball with a low-80’s changeup. It can really get some bad swings.

Maybe it’s simply the scarcity of use compared to his fastball and slider, but Brieske’s changeup is just a whiff machine. More than the other two, the command of this pitch is inconsistent. There are some beautiful changeups thrown by Brieske, but there are also some that aren’t close to the zone. There are also those that miss in a bad spot on the plate, which is where the whiff machine comes in handy. But this ones is so beautifully spotted on the outside corner, the hitter looks like he’s swinging through water.

Okay, that was nice. Let’s just watch another almost exactly like it.

While the changeup does work against same handed, the general thought of the pitch is to be a weapon against opposite handed hitters. With breaking balls it can be easier for opposite handed hitters to see the break coming into them. That being said there are more than one example of the changeup creating whiffs against lefties for Brieske.

His high arm slot and good arm speed adds some deception that makes it tough to pick up, at least for hitters at this level. Brieske stands tall but pulls his head offline through his release, creating space for his arm to work more over the top. That adds a little plane and disguises a changeup that, at its best, has plenty of fading action as well.

Again, all things considered, I still think this is his best pitch and it’s clear. This changeup has a plus grade conversation on it. More consistency in arm speed and command would carry it to a 60 grade for me, but it still might anyway because of how lethal it proved to be in this start.

Curveball

Brieske does have a curveball, but it was thrown once in this start as far as I could tell. It wasn’t really ideal to know much about it. I do know it crossed at 73 MPH. It was up in the zone, but it appeared as a 12-6 shape, which could be a really nice compliment to the look of the slider. Here it is, the lone curveball I found in this start. Based on that, the curveball is decidedly a work in progress. There’s precious little spin and bite to the hook, but pitchers at this level are inconsistent to begin with, so perhaps that simply wasn’t his best one.

West Michigan pitching coach Willie Blair still likes the potential for the curve, particularly as it pairs very well with his delivery. There’s a bit of a low-key resemblance to the Indians’ James Karinchak in there. We’re not comping the pitch to Karinchak’s fearsome curveball, but if they can develop more consistent bite and overall command of the yakker, it could be pretty good.

Final Thoughts

There isn’t much else to add. I think his arsenal plays well off each other, and his changeup could be a weapon despite a somewhat fringy fastball. He’ll give up some barrels if he falls into repetition with any of his pitches, as this is a repertoire that is better for the depth of his pitch mix than for any high-end offering other than perhaps the changeup. As a result, his room for error is less so than any others and there isn’t necessarily a great fallback plan as a reliever should things fail to work out in a starting role. If everything clicks, he might be a backend rotation guy, but more realistically he’d be a spot starter/swingman type arm.

It’s safe to say the Tigers did well with this pick. Brieske has a lot of things to like, the biggest being a step forward in command in 2021 thus far. A little more confidence or development in the curveball would give him a very deep arsenal. He’s added strength and appears to be repeating a somewhat complicated delivery more effectively. If it all comes together the Tigers might have a real steal here, even if the upside isn’t particularly high.