Fast-rising Tigers prospect Beau Brieske sharpening tools for next part of the climb

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — By now, if you are at all plugged into the Tigers’ prospect reports, you know Beau Brieske’s backstory.

Didn’t start pitching full-time until his senior year of high school, wasn’t recruited, went to junior college and then Division II Colorado State-Pueblo, was the 802nd player drafted in 2019 (27th round by the Tigers) and then, after spending most of 2019 in rookie ball and missing the pandemic year of 2020, the right-handed Brieske emerged as the Tigers’ minor league pitcher of the year last season.

Remarkable stuff on all fronts.

Now, as he grinds through these hot days of minor-league minicamp, it’s less about how he got here and more about where he’s going and what it will take to get there.

“It’d be hard for me to say that it’s not my goal to make it (to the big leagues) this year,” said Brieske, who will turn 24 on April 5. “Every year you should be trying to make it and once you get there, your goal should be to stay there and provide value to the team and help the team win games.

“No matter where I start, I just need to stay within myself. You can’t worry about what could happen or what should happen. Just continue to go about my business and let the cards fall where they may.”

Pitching to High-A and Double-A hitters last year at West Michigan and Erie, the long-limbed 6-3, 200-pound Brieske posted a 9-4 record in 21 starts, with a 3.12 ERA, a 1.0 WHIP, striking out 116 in 106.2 innings, walking just 23.

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

That’s the surface data and it’s impressive. But the numbers belie the fact that he was beating hitters mostly with an elevated four-seam fastball (92-94 mph) and an elite change-up. Both his curve ball and slider, though at times nasty, were inconsistent and not quite MLB grade.

Needless to say, Brieske went right into the lab after the season set about polishing up his two breaking balls — a late-breaking 12-to-6 curveball and a firmer, tighter slider.

“The things I have worked on in the offseason I will continue to carry over into the season,” he said. “Just adding put-away breaking pitches. Just execute my breaking balls a little better and being more consistent with them.

“Having those two pitches on a consistent basis will lead to more success moving forward.”

He will test those two revamped breaking balls finally next week when he faces hitters in live batting practice. He is craving that feedback.

“Right now (in bullpens), I am dropping in curveballs for strikes, but if I’m going to use it as a put-away pitch, I need to set it up with the right pitch,” he said. “The slider I can throw early in counts and late in counts. It’s just a matter of executing it.

“That’s the harder, sharper, tighter pitch that’s a little farther ahead.”

The more you talk to Brieske, the more you realize he is not just a lab rat. TrackMan and Rapsodo measurements — spin rates, velocity, pitch shape, etc. — are certainly part of his process, but they provide only the physical data.

It’s his feel for pitching and his baseball IQ, that might be accelerating his ascent. He’s only thrown 127 innings in pro ball, but he already has a veteran’s ability to read a hitter’s swing and attack weaknesses.

“I love facing hitters because I love getting that feedback and learning how to read swings,” Brieske said. “That was a big progression I made last year. I really didn’t do that in college or my first year in pro ball, not as well as I did last year.”

He would sit with West Michigan pitching coach Willie Blair, either while he was charting pitches between starts or between innings of his own start, and study opposing hitters and how pitchers attacked them.

“That’s going to help me when I face better hitters,” he said. “Just having a game plan and being able to watch other guys attack hitters and then be able to take that into my own approach.”

Reading swings and exploiting holes is an advanced-level course, one not usually given to pitchers in A-ball. But this is how it’s been for Brieske. He understands and accepts his own weaknesses and then figures out a way to offset and minimize them.

He’s not going to overpower a lot of hitters — though he’s not giving up on that just yet — so he has figured out how to sequence and locate pitches to keep hitters off-balance and expose their weaknesses.

He knows it will only get tougher as he advances toward the big leagues.

“I need to continue to command the four quadrants and corners of the strike zone with my fastball,” Brieske said. “That’s a huge emphasis of mine. I know my fastball command can always get better. As I go up and face better hitters, I need to be more precise with it. I need to be able to get ahead early with it or get myself back into the count with a quality fastball.”

He has no desire to add a two-seam fastball to his mix, and his reasoning is unassailable.

“I like having four different pitches and four different speeds,” he said. “I like being able to throw the same exact fastball over and over and getting really consistent with hitting my spots. I think hitting my spots is more important for me than changing looks on the fastball.

“I think a fastball up and in and a fastball low and away, with the same exact characteristics, are two completely different looks.”

Last season, Brieske’s four-seamer stayed between 92 and 94 mph. He’s convinced he can produce a higher-octane heater.

“I’m excited to see where I’m at this year,” he said. “I’ve worked pretty hard on making some slight mechanical adjustments. My arm is feeling good and body is feeling good. I’m excited to see where I’m at once the games start. I think I can continue to climb.”

Among the pitchers Brieske studies is Mets fireballer Jacob deGrom.

“When he came into the league, he was like 25 and was topping out at 95 mph,” Brieske said. “And now he’s sitting in the upper-90s and hitting into the 100s. He’s proven you can continue to build as you get older. It’s all about strength and mechanics.

“I will never limit myself when it comes to velocity.”

Chasing velocity, though, often comes with negative consequences, as Brieske knows all too well. Which is why he talks so much about staying within himself and trusting his talent and his process, and not forcing things he can’t do. If his fastball isn’t firm enough, the hitters will let him know and he will adjust.

It’s what he does.

“I know it’s a cliché, but trust is a big word for me,” Brieske said. “If you stay consistent with your business and take it day-by-day and you’re doing the right things, you can just trust how things are going to play out and not worry.

“It’s not an easy thing to do. We battle it. Every guy battles it. But trusting it, trusting the process, that is the thing.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com 

Twitter: @cmccosky

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