One of the better senior prospects available in the 2014 draft, Jeff Brigham makes the list on the back of one of the more potent fastballs in the Dodgers’ system. Brigham’s upside is somewhat limited by his age, size, and injury history, but he may not need much more development to be a capable arm at either the back of the rotation or out of the pen. Should Brigham prove durable enough to handle a starter’s workload, he has the athleticism to harness his command enough to reach his ceiling of number three starter.
This may seem like an odd statement coming from the BBCOR era of college baseball bats, but Brigham's stuff should play up more against wood bats and garner weak contact. For one, BBCOR bats have improved drastically since their inception in widening the sweet spot and providing more power to hits beyond the center of the barrel. With explosive life on a fastball reported anywhere from 90-97 mph, Brigham will saw through the handles of many right-handers’ bats. At its best, it is tempting to give Brigham’s fastball a grade as high as 65, but with such impressive movement, command will always be an issue.
Brigham uses a low three-quarter arm slot for all three of his pitches, which means he will at times work around his slider, giving it a slurvy, trackable break. The slider can flash plus, and when on has a tight 11-5 tilt and can be thrown in the zone as a swing-and-miss or off the plate for right-handers to chase. The change up has a arm-side fade and is thrown with decent arm speed, but appears at times to be the least controllable pitch.
Ultimately, Brigham has the potential of becoming a two-pitch starting pitcher, because he can pitch exclusively off the fastball for stretches. Brigham had a low strikeout rate in college but knew how to keep the fastball in and around the zone to let the heavy sink induce groundouts. He should be able to continue this practice through the minors if he can maintain his velocity in the mid-90s.
Brigham is a good athlete and has a repeatable delivery. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery once already, Brigham’s delivery doesn’t raise any red flags for future arm concern. He works quickly and has a quick tempo within his delivery, offering little deception. Ideally, Brigham could feature more shoulder tilt and pitch on a better plane, something that was always going to be an issue with his height, but the sink on his his pitches make up for it when he’s on. I have not seen a full outing by Brigham and do wonder if his fastball may flatten out when he tires.
Brigham is listed at 6’0 200 lbs., which is why many reports suggest a future relief role for him. I often believe height is overblown when looking at an athletic arm with a repeatable delivery, but Brigham is said to have fatigued down the stretch in college last season. He will be two years removed from Tommy John Surgery this season and will be more conditioned for an every fifth day role, so 2015 will be a good indication of whether Brigham can uphold his velocity and life over 140-150 innings.
Brigham’s fastball is more than enough for relief, with shorter outings likely allowing him to work more consistently at the upper end of his velocity range. Brigham’s strikeout rate doubled when he reached pro ball, and I don’t expect him to keep up a batter per nine rate, but a rate between his college and pro results should keep him in the rotation.
At 23 years old on opening day, Brigham is polished enough to jump low Class-A Great Lakes if the Dodgers deem it, but should reach that level anyhow at some point in 2015. Should they move Brigham to the bullpen, he could climb even further in one season. Brigham doesn’t have much left to develop, though his pitches, secondary especially, need refinement.
If Brigham can maintain close to his best stuff over 20+ starts, the Dodgers may have a real find in the fourth round. He has the athleticism to repeat his delivery and to exhibit enough control of his stuff as a starter long term; he just has to go out and prove it. If he can further refine and maintain the tight break on his slider, Brigham could realize his potential as a number three starter that can handle the expectations of an upper division rotation candidate.
As a fallback, Brigham has a pro future as a middle reliever with utility as a ground ball specialist. At a minimum, Brigham provides depth to the system in either capacity and might be of most value to the Dodgers as a movable asset that will attract teams with the ease of projecting his fastball into a major league bullpen. For now, Brigham should continue to log starts and prove his durability across the 2015 season.