This has been a strange year for Minor League Baseball. For starters, there is no Minor League Baseball being played. Teams have an alternate training site — with the Pirates holding their site in Altoona — where some minor leaguers can play.
The vast majority of players are stuck at home, working on their own development with limited resources and limited input from their coaches. That’s especially the case with lower level prospects who have no shot of making the majors this year.
Brennan Malone is one of those prospects. He was acquired by the Pirates in January in the Starling Marte trade, along with shortstop Liover Peguero. Malone, who just turned 20 years old on Tuesday, has already seen a limited career.
The Diamondbacks drafted him with the 33rd overall pick in the 2019 draft, after he saw improvements at IMG Academy. While at IMG, Malone’s fastball velocity saw an increase, sitting in the mid-90s and touching 99. His slider also saw improvements, with plus potential, leaving his changeup and curveball as pitches to work on.
Malone went on to pitch eight innings in rookie ball last year with Arizona. He attended the brief Spring Training in Bradenton this year with the Pirates, and has since been working on his own at home near Charlotte, NC.
I caught up with Brennan this week, discussing his work this season, and how he’s been able to handle his development with no baseball being played in the minors.
Lack of a Minor League Season
Malone: “It has been tough trying to put things together with some of the people I know. Availability issues, that type of stuff. I’ve been working out at On Deck Academy, which is my old high school facility. Been just training there, and just trying to focus on some important stuff.”
On Deck Academy/IMG Academy Prep Work
Malone: “My freshman through junior year I went to public school near my house at Matthews, NC. I made the decision to go to IMG based on me being able to get ready for college, and maybe professional baseball, which I am now. It helped me to get that college type experience, and helped me to build maturity over that year. I think it just helped a lot with that type of stuff.”
Improvements at IMG Made Him a First Rounder
Malone: “IMG definitely helped with that. The coaches having the experience to actually help me with that type of stuff, which my high school coaches – not to bang on them or anything – they didn’t necessarily have the experience to help me with that type of stuff. I think having those type of coaches with major league experience was really helpful to me.”
Work With the Pirates This Year
Malone: “Being there for a short time in Spring Training, it was a little difficult going back home and trying to connect because you can’t really put the face to the name sometimes, and you just don’t know everybody yet because it was such a short time. That was a little difficult, but other than that, they’ve made me feel at home, and have always been reaching out to me. At least once a week. They’ve been really good about that, and trying to make me feel a part of the organization.
“They had me send them video every once in a while, just checking up on my mechanics, and how my pitches were developing over the downtime.”
How Are the Pitches Developing
Malone: “I feel they’re developing really well, especially my changeup. Just me throwing it more. I actually did find a pretty new grip. Just throwing it is the big deal, but I feel like I actually have a feel for it now, and I can actually throw it harder with more confidence.”
The New Changeup Grip
Malone: “It’s more of a two seam grip. I feel like I can pronate off those seams a little more, and get a better movement off of it. Just something I could actually grip off of, and grip and rip, instead of it sliding out of my finger.”
Shortening His Arm Action
Malone: “I actually have shortened my arm path a little bit, just because I feel like I was more consistent out front, and everything was on time a little bit better, instead of being inconsistent out and around out back.”
“I haven’t necessarily done the Rapsodo, because I don’t have access to that, but I feel like just shortening up the arm action in the back can lead to more consistency out in front. Just better movement on your pitches, and everything like that. I’m a big believer in shortening the arm path, at least a little bit.”
“It’s kind of something I was working on with one of my personal pitching coaches back home in Charlotte. I made the adjustment a little bit by myself, just because my arm action was late, and I ended up missing up and out. I had to fix that. Shortening up the arm action was the solution to that, and it just led to a little more consistency in the zone, and better bite on my pitches.”
How Does He Make That Adjustment?
Malone: “You don’t want to be stabby. You don’t want to be too long. My big focus on shortening up the arm path was kind of coming out of my pant pocket, but still having that nice circle and that nice fluidity through the arm action. I really practice just coming out of that side pocket, and having that good rotation on the ball. I feel like that just helped a lot with shortening it up, and then everything else came naturally a little bit.
“I just use the pocket to feel like I’m coming right out of that pocket, and not going behind my body or anything like that.”
Four-Seam Fastball Movement
Malone: “I actually throw only an off-set four seam, which is why they have a little sink to it. I guess that’s how my natural hand placement goes.”
Malone: “My real focus is getting my curveball down. I had kind of a slurvy feel to it. Didn’t have really hard break, it was kind of loopy. Getting that snap down was really important to me. I kind of made some minor changes. It’s kind of a spike curveball now, with my pointer finger on top just guiding it. I feel like that just helps me guide the pitch a bit more, and get that finger out of the way almost, and let my middle finger do the work. I feel like that’s helped me get that sharp break, and more 12-6 for sure.”
Malone: “I haven’t heard anything. Quinn talked to me a little bit about possibly doing that. I’m assuming I’m going to be down there, just because I’m new and they want to help me train at the facility.”