Brach locked down TinCaps' season
Fort Wayne closer earns MiLBY as top Class A Reliever
If the Fort Wayne TinCaps, MLB.com's winner of the MiLBY for Minor League team of the year, were the Minors' version of the New York Yankees, then Brad Brach was their Mariano Rivera.
Fort Wayne's closer for all of the club's magical 2009 season was pretty much unhittable all year long, being a true stopper as the TinCaps won the Midwest League title. It's for that reason he's being honored with the MiLBY for Class A Reliever of the Year.
Brach easily led the Midwest League with 33 saves (and three more in the playoffs), but that's almost the least of his statistical accomplishments in 2009. The right-hander out of Monmouth University in New Jersey had a 1.27 ERA in 60 regular-season outings. He gave up just 36 hits and 11 walks while striking out 82 in 63 2/3 innings. That translates to a .164 batting average-against, a 0.74 WHIP and an 11.6 K/9 ratio.
"His numbers were pretty sick," said Mike Wickham, the Padres director of Minor League operations. "He was automatic. I think he blew one or two saves and we were even shocked at that. He was like Mariano Rivera, lights-out this season."
And he was pretty much that way all season. The right-hander didn't give up a run until May 6, in his 12th outing. He only allowed one baserunner in April. The Midwest League All-Star finished as well as he started, allowing just one run in 13 games in August and September -- his second-half ERA was 0.85.
"When I first got to Fort Wayne, I was kind of in a zone and ran with it from there," said Brach, a Freehold, N.J. native. "I felt good in Spring Training and wanted to keep going. I just followed through with my plan. I was pretty much locked in, so I kept going with it. I made the minor adjustments everyone has to make, but things were going well, so I didn't change anything major all year."
Brach pitched so well, in fact, it begs the question: Why was he in Fort Wayne all year and not bumped up to Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore in the Padres' system? One of the main reasons was room and opportunity. Yes, Brach earned a promotion with his performance, but the Padres had Bryan Oland racking up 28 saves in Lake Elsinore and Evan Scribner doing a nice job closing with Double-A San Antonio.
"The way he was anchoring the 'pen, the run they were on, we wanted to keep him there," Wickham said. "He probably would've gone to Elsinore and had the same kind of success."
Not that Brach is complaining. Fort Wayne went on to win a total of 101 games, including the playoffs, as well as the Midwest League title. Having that kind of success certainly helped Brach accept the fact he wouldn't have any upward mobility in 2009.
"Obviously, you want to move up for your career, but everyone wanted to finish what we started," Brach said. "I was kind of glad to stay there from beginning to end to see it the whole way through. It helped me not worry about not getting moved up.
"It was my first full season and it could be the best one I'll ever have. It was kind of a dream season."
He'll undoubtedly get the chance to show what he can do at higher levels in 2010 and some might say he's already exceeded expectations. After all, Monmouth University is not exactly a baseball powerhouse and he was a senior sign, taken in the 42nd round of the 2008 Draft. That type of player is not usually thought to be a fast-tracker heading in, so the fact he forced the organization to consider promoting him at all means he's ahead of the game.
"He was a pleasant surprise for a senior sign out of the 42nd round," Wickham said. "That's the kind of senior sign you're looking for. He competed well and threw strikes all year. We'll see how it goes from here."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.