Finishing up our conversation with Nationals pitching prospect Ben Braymer, the left-hander talked more about how he changed his grip on his changeup from two-seam to a four-seam so that coming out of his hand it looks even more like a fastball to the hitter.
“I had accomplished that in Double-A, having my changeup mirror my fastball as far as arm slot goes and the arm speed on it,” Braymer said. “But when I got out to Triple-A the more experienced hitters were able to see a little bit different spin on it and say, ‘Oh, that’s not his fastball’ because I’m a four-seam guy. So, changing from that two-seam grip to the four-seam grip and have it literally come out spinning just like my fastball was huge. (I am) working on getting even more of a separation between the two.”
Braymer said he throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.
“I threw a slider a little bit this past year when I was having trouble with the feel for my curveball,” he said. “I have a 12-to-6 curveball. It plays off of my fastball pretty well. That’s the key, throw it for strikes and then bury it when you need to.”
His teammate, right-hander Wil Crowe, went through similar growing pains when jumping up a level.
Crowe had gone 0-5 with Double-A Harrisburg after an 11-0 run with high Single-A Potomac in 2018. In 2019, he went 0-4 with Triple-A Fresno after a 7-6 record and 3.87 ERA for the Senators.
Crowe had said during 2019 spring training he was completely healthy to begin the season, and what he learned from the long 2018 campaign would help him this time around. He and Braymer often compared notes.
In 2019, Braymer rolled to 4-4 and 2.51 ERA with Harrisburg before an 0-6 start and 7.20 era in 13 starts with Fresno.
The pair became good friends talking about their experiences good and bad, and about how to learn from each outing.
“Me and Wil, we are pretty good friends,” Braymer said. “We would converse daily about the things that we were struggling with, things that we thought can make us successful. Kind of bouncing ideas off each other and playing catch together and making sure everything is spinning how it is supposed to. Just being able to hone our craft together in Harrisburg and now in Fresno was special for me, and I assume for him as well.”
Braymer is confident those growing pains will help him in 2020 and beyond because he now has the tools of experience to battle through mentally, trusting that his stuff is good enough to get outs.
“I think it was good, in a way, to taste some success and some struggles with each other because we were able to kind of bounce those feelings and ideas off of each other, and that was very helpful for both of us, especially me,” he said.
Braymer is putting the finishing touches on his degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis on sports coaching and psychology at Auburn University. He has one more test and then he will be done. He has taken online classes the last couple of years while on the road with baseball.
Braymer said he liked having school to focus on when he left the baseball diamond each day: “I thought it was kind of beneficial. Having something to occupy your mind whenever you leave the field was important for me. It worked out very nice.”
And while he was working on wrapping up his degree he got to watch the end of the Nats’ run to the title from his school’s campus.
“That was awesome,” Braymer said. “I was in Auburn, Alabama. I was finishing my degree there. I was there for class that week and I had gone down the street to a restaurant to watch the game. It was really cool to see that and knowing some of the guys on the roster and being able to kind of experience it through them was cool. Seeing the work from not only them but the guys I don’t know is incredible. They’ve all sacrificed a lot, not only individually but collectively to get to that point.
“The thing that became increasingly obvious down the road was just how important their chemistry within the clubhouse was. I don’t think you can really put a price tag on that. Obviously shows a lot about the character of the guys in the organization and staff.”
One of his good buddies is catcher Tres Barrera, who got called up to the Nationals late in the season and was available if needed during their postseason run.
“Me and Tres (Barrera) are really good friends,” Braymer said. “He’s become one of my better friends over the years. Being able to communicate with him throughout the process a little bit was just really awesome. He was super excited. A lot of hard work and his family’s behalf went into that. To see those guys rewarded is just awesome.”
And now another big step awaits Braymer as he is protected on the Nats 40-man roster for the start of 2020. The southpaw was, of course, already focused on preparing for spring training, but this news adds an edge to his workouts.
“I’m very excited. It’s an honor,” Braymer said. “It makes me look forward to the season even more now. Not that I needed any added motivation, but definitely just going to continue to work hard for that and to take the next step.
“The Nationals saw something in me in 2016 and felt strongly enough to draft me. Being drafted in the spot I was in (18th round, 2016), you’re not really expected to produce much from that round, I guess. For them to add me to their roster and have that vote of confidence in me, especially coming off a World Series championship, means a whole lot. I’ll continue to work hard and prove them right.”