FRISCO, Texas – Thus far in 2019, Brandon Bailey is 3-3 with a 3.51 earned-run average and 1.25 WHIP through 74 1/3 innings with Double-A Corpus Christi of the Astros organization.
Bailey, 24, who pitched at Gonzaga from 2014 to 2016 and was an All-West Coast Conference selection twice, including in 2016 when he went 10-3 with a 3.42 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 125 strikeouts and 31 walks in 100 innings, has also made five relief appearances despite technically being a starter.
However, that’s standard operating procedure in the Houston organization.
“They do a tandem starting thing. If you start one game, the next game you might come out of the bullpen for three or four innings, just alternate,” Bailey said. “It’s like you got two starters. You’ve got one guy that’s probably going to go four or five, and then the back-end guy is going to clean up the rest.”
Another tenet of the Astros’ pitching philosophy involves giving starters specific pitch counts. In April, the maximum was 75. That later grew to 85 pitches and finally to 100, which explains why Bailey has thus far logged less than 70 innings in 2019 and is currently exploring winter-league options to get his innings back up to a normal level. If he’s not selected to play winter ball, he plans on spending part of his offseason at Driveline Baseball in Kent, Washington, further honing his craft.
Originally drafted in the sixth round by Oakland in 2016, he was traded to Houston in November 2017 for Ramon Laureano, now the A’s starting center fielder.
Almost from the start, Bailey has felt at home in the Houston organization.
“The Astros saw something when they decided to trade for me. That in itself is a huge honor, especially when I came here and started to understand why they had found an interest in me,” he said. “It’s so great to be in an organization like this that’s forward-thinking with an analytical approach, but also understands that at the end of the day it’s about getting outs.”
“That just really meshes well with me personally, because I’m a person that’s always pushing innovation and what’s the next step to getting ahead of your opponent. I might not have the natural, God-given physical attributes, but at the end of the day I am really proud of my work ethic and constantly looking for new ways to gain any advantage. That really syncs up well here with Houston.”
In 2018, Bailey earned a late-season promotion from High Single-A Buies Creek of the Carolina League to Double-A and struggled, going 1-0 with a 4.01 ERA in five appearances, including one start. However, he took the necessary lessons from those struggles and implemented them to become a more effective pitcher in 2019.
“Yeah, definitely there’s this idea within professional baseball that the High-A jump to Double-A is probably the biggest except for the jump to the big leagues. I definitely noticed that last year,” Bailey said. “The hitters were much more patient. They had a specific approach as to what they were trying to do in the box, and also there was the idea of taking your best pitch away. For me, it’s my changeup.”
“What I’ve come to understand last year is hey, they’re not swinging at this pitch, and they’re handcuffing me to force me into coming in the strike zone with another pitch, whether that’d be a fastball or a breaking ball. That was a tough adjustment, but it definitely gave me a better idea going into this season.”
Omar Lopez is in his second season managing the Corpus Christi Hooks, and the 21-year veteran of the Houston organization likes the improvement he’s seen from Bailey in 2019 compared to his short stint in the Texas League late last season.
“A lot of improvement since last year. Last year was the first time I was able to see him here after he started in High-A,” Lopez said. “A really good changeup, really good command. Fastball was 90-91. This year, it goes 90-93. Obviously, his command has been really good. Still working on secondary pitches, a slider or a curveball. He’s a great kid, works hard, very smart, always prepares himself really well for every outing.”
Bailey considers his three seasons in Spokane with the Zags as some of the best years of his life. Once this season concludes, whether with the Hooks in the 2019 Texas League Playoffs or not, he plans on returning to Gonzaga to see some former teammates and coaches.
“There were a lot of great memories for sure. Getting to play under Coach Mac(htolf), Danny Evans, Brandon Harmon and all those things were a huge part of my development as a baseball player,” he said. “Obviously, the Gonzaga community is the best in the business in my opinion in terms of just a college community and a great atmosphere to go to school. There was something special about being a Zag. I’m super excited about getting back up there for our alumni weekend in late September.”
Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.