Aaron Brooks makes his second start for the A's tonight, but the Eyeball Scout feels like it's the first time he will have a chance to really see Brooks. Ironic, since the Eyeball Scout was at Brooks' first start in person, but from section 216 one cannot see all the nuances of each pitch the way one can when watching on T.V.
Suffice it to say, Brooks' first start was an epic success marred only by a solo HR off the bat of Lonnie Chisenhall. Brooks pitched into the 8th inning, allowing just 1 run on 5 hits in 7⅓ IP with 0 walks and 5 strikeouts. I am keen to see Brooks' second start, and in anticipation here's a pre-eyeball scouting report on Brooks -- and what you might want to look for in order to figure out just how good he can or cannot be long term...
As far as I can see, Brooks has two qualities that standout in allowing him to vie for a spot on a big league roster. One is that he throws his sinker harder than most pitchers: Few sinkerballers hit 93 MPH, usually sitting more in the range of 88 MPH (a la Kirk Saarloos) to 90 MPH (a la Trevor Cahill). The other is that Brooks is known for having pinpoint control -- in 639 minor league innings, Brooks walked all of 102 batters.
What Brooks showed in his A's debut on Friday night was a surprisingly good changeup. The combination of a heavy 93 MPH sinker, a deceptive changeup, and excellent command, was enough to tame the Indians even though Brooks' curve was inconsistent. You can see why: If a 93 MPH sinker is well located, even if a batter knows it's coming it is hard to keep from beating the pitch into the ground, and you have to start your swing early enough against a 93 MPH fastball that you are going to be vulnerable to a good changeup.
Here's what I wonder. What happens when Brooks isn't pounding the knees to perfection with his sinker? This could be because his pinpoint control is just a tad off, leaving some of the sinkers a bit elevated. It could be because batters are being especially disciplined about not swinging at sinkers that are an inch below the strike zone. It could be because the home plate umpire is judging borderline strikes to be balls.
On a night where Brooks gets a wide strike zone at the knees, a free-swinging team expanding the bottom of the zone, or his command is picture (or is it "pitcher"?) perfect, just the combination of a power sinker, changeup, and great command, will likely suffice. But not much has to go wrong for it all to unravel, unless:
- Brooks can develop his curve to be more than a "show me" pitch.
- Brooks can develop a wrinkle on his fastball, such as the ability to cut the ball or a 4-seamer he can use to pitch effectively up in the zone.
- Brooks can, like Sonny Gray, develop new pitches on the fly such as a split-finger knuckle screwball. And really, how hard could that be?
So I will watching largely for two things tonight: How consistently can Brooks paint the knees with his sinker, and what is he able to do if and when that weapon is not fully available to him? I'm not sure that just a 93 MPH sinker, a solid changeup, and excellent control are enough to thrive in the big leagues, but they are certainly a great beginning. Where do you think he goes from here?