Jeff Brigham should be beaming with pride from what he accomplished last season. Stalled at the High-A level the three previous years, the stocky right-hander vaulted all the way to the major leagues. Throughout this winter, he’s had the comfort of a 40-man roster spot.
And yet, Brigham’s window to establish himself as a starting pitcher is closing fast. The 2019 season presents the opportunity to stick in an unsettled Marlins rotation, the alternative of transitioning into a middle reliever, and the threat of falling out of the picture entirely in the event of another injury.
How did he get here? Traded from Dodgers to Marlins on July 30, 2015
2018 MiLB Stats: 2.36 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 1.09 WHIP, 94 K in 95.1 IP
2018 MLB Stats: 6.06 ERA, 6.04 FIP, 1.78 WHIP, 12 K in 16.1 IP
2019 ZiPS Projection: 4.93 ERA, 5.04 FIP, 1.55 WHIP, 74 K in 95.0 IP
Brigham is the Marlins’ last hope to salvage something from “one of the most complex three-team trades in recent history,” as MLB Trade Rumors described it in 2015.
Involving the Dodgers, Reds and 13(!!!) players, it was a glorified salary dump. Miami shed its obligations to Mat Latos and Mike Morse, attaching a Competitive Balance Round A draft pick—which became No. 40 overall—in order to recoup three prospects. Brigham was one of those prospects, originally drafted by L.A. in the fourth round the previous June.
In every full season since then, the Washington state native has spent time on the disabled list.
- 2016: right lumbar spine strain
- 2017: right oblique strain
- 2018: right oblique strain
Brigham set a career high with 125 innings pitched in 2016 (High-A Jupiter and Arizona Fall League combined). Even in this era of dwindling starter workloads, he will need to prove to be more durable than that.
On behalf of 2080 Baseball, John Eshleman evaluated Brigham in July during an outing with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. (Interestingly, the Marlins hired Eshleman this offseason to join their pro scouting department.)
At six feet tall, Brigham is short by starting pitcher standards, though he compensates for that in his delivery with an extra long stride.
Brigham’s best weapon is a 12-to-6 curveball. “Plays to above-average with ability to locate in zone,” Eshleman writes. “Can get some chases swing/miss and weak contact in zone.”
Once recalled to the majors in September, we saw that curve 30.4 percent of the time, according to Statcast. It generated a .260 xwOBA and 22.9 Whiff%, far better than either his four-seam fastball or changeup. There’s only a seven mile-per-hour separation between those other pitches. His ability to locate the change is inconsistent, raising the possibility that he may be best suited for a swingman role where two quality offerings is enough.
As a guest Monday night on The Marlins Catch podcast, Brigham said he’s still committed to developing his full repertoire:
“I showed my fastball last year, the [breaking ball] was good. My changeup is really one of the pitches I’ve been working on in past years, and it showed a lot in the minor leagues when I was coming up...One of the reasons why I was able to make it up last year was focusing on what I had.
“As soon as I start overcomplicating things, that’s when you stop executing the simple things.”
Brigham possesses good hand-eye coordination as demonstrated in his first-ever MLB at-bat:
That athleticism manifests in Brigham’s fielding, too. He was charged with only two errors in 69 career minor league defensive chances (.971 fielding percentage).
As mentioned up top, the Marlins enter 2019 Spring Training with plenty of fluidity in their major league rotation. Brigham should receive preference over non-roster invitees, but he also has to contend with veterans José Ureña, Dan Straily and Wei-Yin Chen, not to mention the youngsters who out-performed him with the Fish last summer (Caleb Smith, Trevor Richards, Pablo López and Sandy Alcántara). Manager Don Mattingly has shown that he puts real weight on Grapefruit League numbers, which pressures the soon-to-be 27-year-old to arrive at camp in peak condition.
With three minor league options remaining, expect Jeff Brigham to split time between Miami and Triple-A New Orleans.