The Pittsburgh Pirates selected right-handed pitcher Brad Case in the 17th round of the 2018 amateur draft. He came from a cold weather state in high school and a virtually unknown baseball program in Florida for college. The Pirates hope they found a hidden gem in the middle rounds, who could turn into a solid pitching prospect down the line.
Case grew up in Pelham, New York. He attended high school at nearby Iona Prep. We recently had an article that looked at players who come from cold weather states and the advantages and disadvantages they had in baseball. The player featured in that article was John O’Reilly, who lived just west of Case in upstate New Jersey, So everything that applied for O’Reilly, also rings true for Case.
The baseball seasons are short in the northeast and the baseball players tend to play other sports as well to help fill that down time. We have covered a lot of two-sport players in our recent feature articles and even some three-sport stars in high school. The three-sport stars usually play baseball, football and basketball. That’s especially true with the pitchers like Case, who use their strong arm in the first two sports and their size in the last one. That’s not the case here. He played hockey in high school, which is something we haven’t see yet during these features.
At 6’5″ as a sophomore, and someone who was always taller than kids his same age while growing up, you would expect basketball to be his sport. Case was put on the ice at a young age and played hockey for his first two years of high school before a concussion made him reconsider the sport. The basketball season and hockey season happened at the same time, so the sport he took up at a very early age was the one he ended up playing in school. Case was the big kid on the team and he was looked at to help protect his teammates. He wasn’t a huge fan of playing hockey, but he did take away some lessons he received from playing the game, which translate over to the mentality he has on the baseball field.
“I had some crazy coaches that pushed and my teammates to new levels,” Case said. “I learned a lot of how to stand up for my teammates.”
That work ethic and being a good teammate, are two things that have stuck with Case throughout his journey to pro ball. Many of his answers for this article talk about team goals first.
Case only played football as a freshman, making baseball his lone sport during his final two seasons of high school. He grew up playing baseball and it was always his first love, even if he wasn’t the best at it early on. Case told me that his baseball dream was to hit more homers than Babe Ruth. That likely won’t happen, though Ruth did start as a pitcher, so Willie Stargell’s franchise home run record could be in trouble one day. Case was always a pitcher, which wasn’t ideal for the kids who faced him at an early age.
“In little league I was an absolute liability on the mound,” Case said. “I threw hard, just had no clue where it was going.”
We often hear about tall pitchers taking longer to get their proper mechanics down and Case was no different. He said that he really didn’t figure out his mechanics until his senior year in high school because he was constantly growing.
Case was at 6’5″ during the summer of his sophomore year and that’s when he started getting some notice on the baseball field. He grew another inch each of the next two years, but the real growth as a pitcher came during his junior year. After hitting 77 MPH during a summer tournament in Georgia in 2013 between his sophomore and junior years, Case showed that he added nine MPH to his fastball during his trip back to Georgia a year later. Now hitting 86 MPH and standing 6’6″ going into his senior year, you would think that he would get some draft attention out of high school. As Case put it, that attention was minimal at best.
“I had one scout write my name down because I was tall and that’s about it.”
So after posting an 8-1 record as a senior, while getting named First-Team All-Star and being named as the best private league player, Case went to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. That’s a big difference from the baseball and hockey weather he saw in New York. His decision to go there wasn’t entirely a baseball decision either, though his pitching skills helped land him a partial scholarship after a strong showing at a LakePoint Perfect Game tournament in Georgia.
“I went to Rollins specifically because I thought pro ball was always going to be out of reach for me,” Case said. “I figured if I went to Rollins, it was my best choice to get a good education and good job after college.”
Going to a Division II school allowed Case to immediately be one of the most used pitchers on the staff. At a bigger Division I school, he may not have had that opportunity. The thing about college baseball is that if you’re good enough to be drafted high, scouts will find you, so getting a chance to pitch regularly right away helped him grow as a draft prospect.
As a freshman, Case made nine starts and eight relief appearances, posting a 6.80 ERA in 49 innings. He showed decent control and struck out nearly one batter per inning. The numbers improved greatly in 2017 as a sophomore. He went 90.2 innings in 14 starts, cutting his walks in half, while striking out 102 batters and finishing with a 3.57 ERA. That’s not unusual for a pitcher to do much better as a sophomore, but there were two big reasons for that improvement over one year.
During his first two seasons at Rollins, Case was throwing to a catcher who would be drafted in the 14th round by the San Francisco Giants in 2017. Chris Corbett was receiving pitches from Case for two years and he may have helped him on his way to pro ball more than anyone else he has encountered.
“I 1000% credit Chris Corbett for my baseball career,” Case said. “The level of professionalism and work he brought into the clubhouse was incredibly valuable. My mindset as a freshman was try to just make the varsity because we have a JV, but he said no, I should try to be the Friday guy. I should try to be throwing 90 MPH by the end of the year and sure enough I was throwing 91 and I had become the game two starter. He also got me going to church every Sunday and join a bible study, which I’m incredibly thankful for too.”
The other part of his big step between 2016 and 2017 happened during summer ball. Pitching for the Montauk Mustangs in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, he posted a 2.86 ERA in 37.2 innings during the regular season, then added seven shutout innings in the playoffs. He also topped things off with a scoreless appearance in the All-Star game. That strong summer performance gave him confidence going into his sophomore season.
“That summer of 2016 I went out to the Hamptons League and that’s where I really figured out how to be the pitcher I am,” Case said. “That was the most I was locked in my entire life.”
That sophomore season led to Case landing on the radar for many scouts. He said that at some point during the early stages of the 2018 season, as many as 20 teams showed some interest. He went out and had a solid junior season, but things didn’t go as smoothly as the stats appear to indicate. His team lost 19 games in a row and he struggled to pick up strikeouts. Case still had a 3.46 ERA in 96.1 innings, showing slightly better results, while working deeper in games. The problem was that he wasn’t missing bats. His strikeout rate per nine innings went from 10.13 as a sophomore down to 6.91 in 2018. As the lack of strikeouts continued deep into the season, the amount of scouts showing interest dwindled.
I talked to Case shortly after he joined the Pirates and he mentioned that he lost the sharpness on his slider from one year to the next. In essence, his strikeout pitch wasn’t a strikeout pitch anymore. That led to him going in the 17th round of the draft, but that’s where the Pirates may have lucked out.
When I first talked to Case, he was in the Gulf Coast League. That is not where teams put 17th round picks out of college who receive six-figure bonuses ($100,000 in this instance). I figured there had to be a good reason he was there and that ended up being true. The Pirates usually don’t tinker with draft picks until they get a good long look at them. That first change often happens in the Fall Instructional League, but Case saw his first adjustment from the Pirates before he was even drafted.
The Pirates held a pre-draft workout at Pirate City in late May and a lot of players attended, but Case ended up being the only player they drafted from that group. Before they called his name on June 6th during day three of the draft, Scott Mitchell helped him make some adjustments during the pre-draft workout. Mitchell is the Senior Pitching Coordinator for the Pirates, who helps oversee all of the minor league pitchers. Going into the draft, Case had a good idea that the Pirates would end up drafting him and that was due to his experience at the workouts.
Attending the pre-draft workouts is the best way to get in front of scouts. Case said as many as 30 scouts were there from the Pirates. The players went through a pre-workout physical, then the pitchers loosened up on the field before heading to the bullpen. The Pirates obviously liked what they saw, but they weren’t done making the early adjustments we don’t often see.
Case went to the GCL to work with pitching coach Drew Benes, who is moving up to Bradenton for the 2019 season. Benes had him stay on his back leg longer to help get more out of his delivery. It immediately helped him regain his slider, which was his best pitch before he lost a feel for it in college this spring. The adjustment allowed him to get back on top of the slider and pull it down to get that late sharp break again. Without Case losing that slider during his junior season, the Pirates likely don’t end up picking him in the 17th round.
After his time in the GCL, which was impressive enough to get him named as our GCL Pirates Pitcher of the Year, Case moved up to Bristol for two more starts. That put him at a better competition level, one more suited for his experience. Case had a strong first start in the Appalachian League under the guidance of pitching coach Joey Seaver, who passed away suddenly this off-season. Seaver not only made a big impression on Case during their short time together, he also helped him through a loss off the field.
“Joey was such a nice guy,” Case said. “He would jump down and catch a bullpen and didn’t even think twice about it. My grandmother actually passed while I was in Bristol and he couldn’t have been any nicer to me about it and really had my back during that time. I wish I was there longer because I didn’t get too much time there with him in those two weeks.”
Case’s season didn’t end when the Bristol season did. He was moved up to Morgantown for one final start. He admitted that he was gassed at that time, throwing 96 innings in college already and another 49.2 between the GCL and Bristol. He last game with Bristol showed the effects of the fatigue, resulting in his worst outing as a pro. He gave up four runs on nine hits and three walks in four innings. So while he was running on fumes, the one extra game with Morgantown was something he really needed.
“I’m glad I left the season with that taste in my mouth versus the last start in Bristol,” Case said about his one run over five innings performance. “Plus pitching in front of that many people finally made it feel like I was playing pro ball.”
Since the season ended, Case has been back to Pirate City twice. He went there for the rookie camp during the Fall Instructional League in late September, then returned in December for a strength camp. Both camps are designed to help players with their physical conditioning, though the rookie camp also prepares them better mentally, not just on the field, but off the field as well.
“Rookie camp was interesting,” Case said. “My biggest takeaway was how to compete against teammates while also working with them to attain certain goals. Also I really saw that the Pirates would love for us to all be big leaguers but it’s more important to them that we become good people. We won’t be playing forever but we will need to learn how to be a good person the rest of our life.”
That’s an interesting perspective on the team building exercises. It really shows that getting prospects to the majors is a group effort and having better people around them, both as players and individuals, helps the better prospects reach their goals.
Speaking of goals, Case had a few for the upcoming season. He’s not just talking about them though, he’s putting in the work to get there. This off-season, he attended the Cressey Sports Performance Program in Hudson, Massachusetts, which is highly respected for the work they do with athletes, including some of the top pitchers in baseball. Case hopes the work there will help him maintain his stuff on the mound throughout the entire season, as well as possibly add some velocity.
Case has already seen some improvements with his slider this off-season. It’s his go to pitch, which he mixes with a two-seam fastball, a four-seamer that got up to 94 MPH while in the GCL, a cutter and a changeup. He’s sticking with five pitches for now because they all play well off of each other. He’s a strike-thrower, who hates to walk batters because he did that a lot in his early days of baseball.
As for his own personal goals, you see another example here of how he is a team-first player you want on your side.
“My main focus is to make a full season team and then get them into the playoffs.” Case said. “I watched too many teams celebrate on our field last year, so I want a champagne shower.”
The Pirates have a lot of potential pitchers for their new Low-A affiliate in Greensboro this upcoming season. Some very good pitchers will end up in Extended Spring Training, where they will be getting regular work and doing their best to be the first man up when a spot opens up.
Case isn’t taking any chances this off-season. His report date for Spring Training is February 24th, but he plans on going a week earlier to show the Pirates that he is ready for full-season ball. His goal would be to win a South Atlantic League title with Greensboro, though I’m sure he wouldn’t mind finishing up with his old GCL pitching coach Drew Benes up in Bradenton.