Beau Brieske appears to be late-round gem for Tigers, but plenty of work remains

Detroit News

You grow accustomed to these Beau Brieske starts, comfortably, if you are Erie manager Arnie Beyeler.

Brieske threw six innings Thursday against the Richmond Flying Squirrels in a Double-A game at Erie’s UMPC Park. He allowed four hits and no runs in six innings. He walked none, struck out four.

Brieske, 23, and a right-handed starter who began the year at Single-A West Michigan and moved in July to Erie, has a 3-1 record for the SeaWolves, a 2.66 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and a .225 opposing batting average, all included in eight starts and 44 innings. He has struck out 40, walked eight.

Note that his work at Erie, statistically, has been even better than the West Michigan efforts that won him a promotion. He had a 3.45 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 13 starts for the Whitecaps.

You can make a case Brieske has been the biggest development story of any starter on the Tigers farm in 2021. Here is a 27th-round draft pick (2019, Colorado State-Pueblo) who is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and who has been money since he made his first start in May.

He has a hits-per-nine-inning ratio of 7.2 for the year (both teams, combined). He has struck out 9.8 batters per nine. He has walked fewer than two hitters in those nine-inning averages.

Is he thus headed to Detroit, as early as next year, or in 2023? With this trendline ticking steadily upward, all after missing his 2020 minor-league year because of the pandemic’s farm-system shutdown, why would he not be all but waiting a postmark to Comerica Park?

It is, of course, more of a complex question than simple stats connote.

Brieske throws his fastball at the 92-93-94 range, occasionally brushing 95. He has a solid change-up. He also owns a slider and a curveball most definitely are third and fourth pitches.

For this reason, analytics students understand why his x-FIP, which tends to be more accurate than ERA in revealing a pitcher’s true dynamism, is sitting at a more pedestrian 4.45 on the FanGraphs scale.

It means that closer-to-the-norm projections, factoring fly balls and home-run probabilities, suggests Brieske’s stuff will be less dynamic — more hittable — once another season or so shakes out. Perhaps as soon as he begins firing against even slightly better hitters.

All of this is free to be considered blarney by Brieske, or anyone else who prefers to look at performance rather than computer appraisals of how a steady, increasingly seasoned starter ranks at the end of 2021.

But he concedes that, yes, he must — must — get that curveball to bite more and, ideally, massage into the mix a workable slider.

“I would say also, to dive into the metrics, cleaning up my fastball to add spin-efficiency,” Brieske said during a Friday phone chat, detailing offseason goals as he begins already to look at 2022. “I’ve been working on it all year, and it’s progressively gotten better. As I increase my spin-efficiency on my fastball, I can make that pitch move more.

“And that, in itself, would be a big boost to my arsenal. It’s simply easier to hit a flat fastball than one with more life on it.”

As for his breaking balls — they’ve got a ways to go. And that also is why his xFIP is perhaps high. Home runs simply are easier to hit if you don’t have a boring, high-spin fastball, let alone lack a curveball that now too often tends to spin and even hang.

“I have started trusting my curveball a lot more,” Brieske said, emphasizing the “have” in that sentence. “I’m throwing it even if it doesn’t feel the best that day. I’m at least showing it, so it puts it in the back of the hitter’s mind.

“I’ve done a pretty good job of being able to drop it in for a strike. I probably throw it eight or 10 times a game right now. It doesn’t really get a lot of swings, because it’s such a different look from my other pitches. So, when I can drop it in for a strike, I feel like it opens up my arsenal.

“Then, I can avoid them selling out on my put-away pitches.”

In full accord there is Beyeler.

“When his fastball is on, his other stuff plays up,” Beyeler said during a Friday conversation. “His change-up is probably his next-best pitch, and it’s a sell-pitch — a solid-average major-league pitch, and he can throw it in any count.

“Beau’s really good with his game-planning,” Beyeler said. “He’s got a little feel for pitching. He does his homework, he can read a swing, and yet he’s aggressive. He attacks the zone and doesn’t tend to get behind.

“Again, he does a nice job of locating the fastball. He knows how to elevate it. Combined with his homework and preparation, he knows how to get people out. He’s fun to watch pitch, because he gives you a solid start every time out.

“He battles, he competes, he can hold a runner.”

The Tigers continue to believe they found something possibly precious in Brieske, who might have been overlooked two years ago by MLB scouts and prospectors who also allegedly were scouring the Pueblo area.

Brieske had gotten little Division 1 attention as he finished high school in Gilbert, Arizona. He ended up tossing for Glendale Community College before migrating to Colorado State-Pueblo.

The Tigers paid attention. Should any of this early stuff continue, they might have set a new club standard for 27th-round picks.

Brieske agrees it has been a take-notice 2021. But it’s the next steps that count, and invariably, they are the roughest for a prospect, pitcher or hitter.

“I kind of have an idea how I want to approach this offseason,” he said. “For sure, I’m going to be continuing to develop those two breaking balls. A few tweaks, mechanically, should help with command and velocity — and that’s going to be a focus.

“I’ll also be working on my body to get stronger — putting on some good weight. And I’ll continue trying to be a better athlete.

“I think it will all translate.”

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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