Brach beat long odds to reach Padres' bullpen
Rookie right-hander was selected in 42nd round of 2008 Draft
SAN DIEGO -- It's probably a good thing Brad Brach had no intention of doing anything smart, benevolent or even frivolous with the $1,000 signing bonus that he received from the Padres as a 42nd-round Draft pick in 2008.
After all, $1,000 doesn't go as far as it used to, especially when it's not really $1,000 to begin with.
"It was long gone when I got it," Brach said the other day, laughing. "I think that it was about $660 after taxes. I know I didn't get far with it. I probably spent it on food."
In a time when Major League teams are spending more and more on scouting and player development, clinging to their own prospects like precious gold medallions, there are still a few gems to be found in the bargain basement.
You just have to dig really deep to find them.
"When you get to that point of the Draft, you're trying to take the guy who intrigues you the most," said Bill "Chief" Gayton, who was the Padres' scouting director in 2008.
"And in many cases, you're also trying to fill out the rosters."
A prime example would be Brach, the 25-year-old reliever who was recalled from Triple-A Tucson on Aug. 31 after a serendipitous climb through the Minor Leagues. He went from mere roster filler to a firm spot on the Padres' radar moving toward 2012.
"I knew every year that I had to put up good numbers," Brach said. "I tried not to worry about it or think about it, but I knew that as a late Draft pick, if I fell behind, that I could easily get left behind.
"It would be easy for them to say, 'Well, he's a 42nd-round pick ... we didn't give him a lot of money.'"
No, but they gave him an opportunity, and Brach has certainly made the most of it. In his four seasons in the Padres' system, he's saved 112 games with a collective ERA of 2.22.
Brach started the season with Double-A San Antonio and was later promoted to Triple-A Tucson. Today, Brach is in the Major Leagues, where he's 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA in six relief appearances so far.
"I wanted an opportunity to keep pitching out of college, that was it," Brach said. "That is all that I could have asked for coming out of a small college. Making it here, I think that I proved a lot of people wrong."
Since baseball abolished its draft-and-follow provision in May 2007 -- a system in which teams once could draft players, stash them at a junior college to mature and later sign them before the start of the Draft the following year -- players like Brach have become rare.
Other than Brach, Angels first baseman Efren Navarro -- a 50th-round pick in 2007 -- is the only other player on an active roster who was drafted in the 40th round or later since 2007.
"We kind of caught lightning in a bottle with Brad," said scout Jim Bretz, who did the primary scouting on Brach when he was playing for Monmouth University, a Division I school in New Jersey.
Bretz, who is responsible for Maine, New Jersey, New York and New England, said he found Brach almost by accident.
"He wasn't the high-priority guy going in ... but there was something interesting there," Bretz said. "I loved the way he battled and competed. He threw strikes all the time and gave his team a chance to win."
Brach, a starter at Monmouth who still holds the school record for career victories (29) and strikeouts (277), didn't expect to hear his name early in the Draft in 2008. He said there was one point when he figured he might not get drafted at all.
"I was realistic, thinking I'd go between the 20th and 40th round. But sometime after the 40th round, I didn't think it was going to happen," Brach said. "I didn't know if I was going to have to play independent ball or sign somewhere as a free agent."
It was about that same time on the opposite coast, where Bretz was in the Draft room in San Diego with Gayton and a host of other front-office types. Toward the end of the Draft, Bretz glanced up to the Padres' Draft board.
"Every time we kept looking up at the board, Brad was still there," Bretz said. "I sat there thinking how much I would like to have this guy.
"It was started getting late in the Draft and Chief finally asked, 'Who can throw strikes and compete?' I told him there was something there with him [Brach] and how he was always going to give you his best effort that day."
With the 1,275th pick of the Draft, the Padres selected Brach. He blossomed in the Minor Leagues, going from someone who routinely threw between 89-90 mph as a senior at Monmouth to someone who sits between 93-94 mph.
"He could always pitch," Bretz said. "He wasn't throwing the heavy splitter like now, and his velocity wasn't up to 96 like it is now, but he could pitch. A lot of times, I will base a decision on whether this is a guy that I'd like to have pitching for me if I was a manager.
"I think I see a lot of myself in him. Now, I was never a great player, either, but I did all of the little things I needed to do to get by. He's kind of an underdog ... and those are the guys that you root for."