The new trend right now for Jays fans is gushing over prospects in the farm. At this point in time, the future is all there is to talk about. But, many of the prospects that we gush over don’t have parents who are in the baseball Hall of Fame, believe it or not. And some don’t even have parents who had MLB careers either.
Most of these players struggle financially making a starting salary of $1,100 per month before taxes and fees. They sacrifice their early twenties for training and living on the road, all to play the game that they love. The only difference is now there is a lot of pressure that comes with being a professional. A lot of pressure that is going to define who they are and if they will set foot on an MLB field and live out their dream.
Most of the Jays prospects come from humble families like you or me. They just so happen to be born with a baseball gift that so many kids wish they had. Many of these prospects in the minors are beginning their own journey that they all hope leads to the show, as they work hard developing, growing as individuals, and learning. Last season, Blue Jays pitching prospect Brayden Bouchey learned a lot about himself as a person and a pitcher.
The Vancouver native was selected 1002nd overall in the 33rd round of the 2016 MLB Draft. Brayden was lucky enough to win the Northwest League championship last year in his hometown in front of the raucous crowd at the Nat.
That season, however, taught Brayden many things about himself and what works for him on the mound. His early struggles in Vancouver taught him that he needs to trust his stuff and the pitches that work for him, but most importantly, his struggles taught him to trust himself on the mound.
Since his early issues in Vancouver, Brayden, who is transitioning from his time as a starter at Louisiana-Monroe to a reliever as a pro, has straightened out as a pitcher. And he has had a successful season in Lansing so far.
The big 6’ 6” righty told me that he loves working out of the ‘pen. He has a 2.30 ERA in 15.2 innings pitched for the Lugnuts. He has fanned 16 while walking only 7 batters. He also had the opportunity to pitch up in New Hampshire this season, where he posted a 1.59 ERA – not too bad at all.
As a kid growing up in British Columbia, he used to go to Safeco Field a lot in the summer and he, of course, watched a lot of Jays games on TV. He idolized Roy Halladay and dreamed of pitching for the Jays, like any Canadian baseball kid does.
I had the opportunity to interview Brayden about his young career, his early struggles, the mental side of pitching, pitching, the minors, more pitching, and the Jays’ development program.
Could you tell me a about your time in Vancouver last season?
The summer had its ups and downs for me because I really struggled at the beginning, which I think was part due to me not really pitching to my strengths. And, ya know, talking to Cy (Ed. Jim Czajkowski, pitching coach for the C’s) and other roving coaches who would come in…just really learning what I was best at on the mound and trying to perfect that was what made my second half turn around and allow me to pitch as well as I did.
Did you change your mechanics?
I don’t think it was anything mechanical that I changed. It was me throwing fastballs and curveballs rather than trying to throw changeups and sliders. I just attacked hitters with my fastball and mixed in that curveball. That was kind of what I learned on the pitching side in Vancouver.
The mental side of the craft is just as important as being able to hurl heat or have a nasty curveball. How did you work through the mental side of your early struggles?
I had to learn how to allow myself to have more confidence and add less pressure to myself.
I think we can all relate to that. How do you feel about this season so far?
It’s been a bit of an adventure year for me. I was luckily enough to spend almost a whole month up in New Hampshire, which I think was just another really good learning experience…knowing that my strengths and what I do well can play at higher levels. And then coming back to Lansing and being able to have success here so far has been great. The team is great. Obviously it helps when things are going well and the team is winning, but there’s a great group of guys around here and it’s been a lot of fun so far this summer.
Did you find a big difference between hitters from Low-A compared to Double-A?
There is obviously a gap there, but before going up there I would’ve thought that there was a lot bigger of a jump. The lineups are better, one through nine, um, and you have to deal better with your pitches and execute better. If you make the pitches that you want to make, you’re still going to get guys out. But, they can make mistakes go a lot further up there. And you definitely have to be able to pitch ahead up there because if you get behind, they know what’s coming, and that makes it a lot easier on the hitters.
What pitch of yours do you feel really good about?
Probably my fastball, to be honest. I’ve just been throwing fastballs and curveballs. I’m kind of working on a split-finger/changeup sort of thing. I don’t really know what to call it, but I haven’t used it in a game yet. But, the overwhelmingly majority of pitches that I throw are fastballs. And being able to throw it down in the zone and up in the zone, gives guys a lot of different looks at it. So, it kind of plays as two different pitches.
Is there anything you specifically do to try and improve your command?
Command is just an everyday, playing catch sort of thing. Pitchers can definitely get better at it. When I first got into pro-ball, my command wasn’t great, but it’s a whole lot better now compared to when I first came in, but it still needs to get better. Concentration and visualizing what I try to do before every pitch definitely helps me hit my spots.
Do you get information from your teammates and ask them what they are looking for as hitters, how they identify pitches by the spin of the ball, and all that stuff?
Yeah, there are definitely a couple guys on my team that I talk about stuff like that with. As far as what they see from the plate side from while I’m throwing, I talk to my catchers more on that. But, I definitely talk to hitters about what sort of stuff they are looking for in certain counts. I try to grab the general consensus out of that and say if this is what most guys are looking for, then this is what I should be doing in that count.
Could you tell me about the Blue Jays’ development program?
They definitely are making it more of a whole concept about every aspect of your life and how it is benefiting to your baseball career. So, this year they hired a bunch of nutritionists that we had one-on-one meetings with. The strength and conditioning, ya know, just being able to maintain your strength throughout the season and your flexibility, which is a big part. They have also hired mental performance coaches that, ah, come and visit. And if you ever have anything that you need to talk to them about, you can just call them. The whole staff is really there to help you get better at any aspect in your career. So, you can really approach any staff member of the Blue Jays and they will be willing to help you in any way they are able to.
It was definitely interesting talking about this stuff with Brayden. I’m sure that the big Canadian righty from British Columbia will one day set foot on the carpet in the Dome. It’s really only a matter of time, but Brayden isn’t concerned with the future. For him, he’s in the moment working on developing an effective third pitch, learning from past failures, and continuing to build confidence. What I think is the coolest thing that I learned from my conversation with Brayden is how in the moment he is.
As fans, we see these players as a part of the future, but they are too busy doing their best as they learn and grow as players and individuals every day. They don’t concern themselves with a future that they have no control over, or at least Brayden doesn’t. He is focused on getting better everyday and pitching the best that he can out of the ‘pen for the Lugnuts.