2023 Tigers player previews: Breaking ball remains crucial to Beau Brieske’s future

Bless You Boys

The Detroit Tigers draft record over the past six years suddenly looks rather grim. Most of that is the fact that their five big prospects have stumbled to one degree or another early in their major league careers. Their stories are far from written, but an area where the Tigers have had enormous success recently is in their selection of late round pitchers. Right-hander Beau Brieske looks to be the best of the bunch, but if he’s to continue an unlikely journey to the major leagues, he has one major flaw left to address.

The 24-year-old was a relative unknown coming out of high school in Arizona. He transformed himself over two years playing at Glendale Community College, building up his 6’ 4” frame and developing pro caliber velocity. A good junior year after transferring to Colorado State Pueblo still didn’t get him on anyone’s radar, and somehow a Tigers area scout convinced them to pluck Brieske in the 27th round of the 2019 amateur draft. It’s a very good thing he did.

The year off due to the pandemic proved a turning point, like it has for so many prospects. Brieske came out in 2021 throwing hard with better command and raced onto prospect lists by year’s end after a strong two months at the Double-A level to close out his first full pro season. That momentum, and some bursts of 97-98 mph gas in spring training, made him a popular choice for a surprise contributor going into the 2022 season. Brieske got the call, and while he struggled in May, he ultimately saved the Tigers bacon somewhat with a long series of solid starts in June and July.

Beau Brieske 2021-2022

Season IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 FB%
Season IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 FB%
2021 62.2 3.25 30.2 6.0 2.15 49.4
2021 44.0 3.04 23.3 4.7 1.64 45.0
2022 17.1 4.60 26.8 7.0 2.60 50.0
2022 81.2 4.97 15.9 7.4 2.76 43.8
2023 ZIPS 81.2 4.52 18.3 7.0 1.34

The situation is not terribly complicated. Brieske needs a better, more consistent slider. The fastball and changeup are good against lefties, but the slider lags behind as a major weakness against right-handed hitters. He gets a lot of weak contact in the air, but he gets a lot of contact in the air to begin with. The new Comerica Park dimensions and lowered walls probably weren’t his idea of a good time. It’s probably unreasonable to expect him to run lower home run rates than the roughly league average 1.34 HR/9 that the ZIPS projection system suggests. He’s going to need to strike more guys out to take the next step.

There are a lot of positives in his favor, however. The velocity bump we saw a year ago in spring training was sticky, as Brieske averaged 94.4 mph on his fastball in 2022. He turns an above average spin rate into pretty good hop on the fourseamer, and his relatively low release point combined with the riding action adds a dimension that helps it play really well at the top of the zone. He’ll mix in more of a sinker against lefties

Brieske also has a pretty nasty changeup and here lies the real intrigue. Jamming them with the fourseamer and then dropping a filthy changeup down and away, he dominated left handed hitters all year long, allowing a meager .265 wOBA. Unlike so many solid right-handers that can’t master the changeup, Brieske is well ahead of the game in that regard. It was the slider that was occasionally hung and hit hard. If he can tighten that pitch up, the fastball would also play a little better with right-handers, and the Tigers could have a pretty good starting pitcher for years to come.

The first two pitches in this highlight reel do a good job of showing off the fourseamer and the changeup.

Beau Brieske has overcome one obstacle after another on his way to the major leagues. If improving the breaking ball significantly proves a step too far to ask, he’s still a solid bet airing out his best fastball from the bullpen. Going after hitters with the fastballs, Brieske is an aggressive power pitcher who just doesn’t quite get enough whiffs. He does pound the strike zone, doesn’t give up many walks, and creates an awful lot of easy outs in the air. If he can just take a little pressure off a good but not great fastball by finding a more reliable handle on his slider, there is potential for a lot more.

Right now, Brieske and lefty Joey Wentz seem like the sixth and seventh starting pitchers on the depth chart. Order them as you will. Their roles will largely depend on their health and the health of the pitchers ahead of them. But the opportunity is going to be there for Brieske this season at some point. If the breaking ball improves he’s very likely to seize a spot in the rotation and refuse to give it up.

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