Rex Brothers was the heir apparent to Huston Street‘s place in the ninth inning for the Colorado Rockies when he came up in 2011, and with Street gone in 2012, the lefty was poised to become the team’s next closer coming off a 2.88 ERA stint that came with an elite 13.06 K/9.
But, last season was anything but the smooth ride to the ninth that many had expected Brothers to have. The 25-year-old veered wildly between unhittable and eminently hittable through the course of the year, swapping brilliant months (0.66/0.66 ERA/WHIP, .128 BAA, 13.83 K/9 in June) with terrible ones (5.23/1.94 ERA/WHIP , .378 BAA, 8.71 K/9 in July), but never truly able to get much going as far as showing that he had turned a corner for good.
The Jeykll and Hyde season even saw the former first-round pick returned briefly to the minors, and though he finished his season with five straight scoreless outings, Brothers’ quest to take over the ninth inning for the Rockies was significantly derailed by the bouts of wildness and ineffectiveness.
It didn’t really help that Rafael Betancourt emerged as a reliable closer last season either, and that’s who the Rockies will take into 2013 as the closer, with Matt Belisle and Brothers presumably fitting in the set-up roles.
That’s where they’ll start, but Brothers goal will remain the same, even if it’s taking him a little longer to get there. To take the next step to the role he was groomed for, Brothers will have to improve his control in 2013. It’s an issue he’s had throughout the minors (4.9 BB/9 over four minor league seasons), but walking close to five batters per nine innings simply isn’t going to play for him in the major leagues.
As difficult as Brothers is to hit, and as many batters as he strikes out, he will have to lower his walk rate closer towards 4.00 BB/9, as he did for three out of four months in 2011. It’s also worth noting that opposing batters were more locked in to the lefty’s fastball in 2012 (.855 OPSA compared to .750 in 2011), and Brothers mixed in a hard change in order to rely on the heater/slider combo a little less.
The mix did not make for consistent results, but it yielded positive progress in terms of getting swinging strikes (14.7 percent to 12.2 percent in 2011), and continually developing that third pitch will likely play a major role to how Brothers will fare in 2013.
Even in an ideal world scenario, all of these things might not be enough to get Brothers to the ninth inning, not when Betancourt around. Though, that could change reasonably quickly, as a relatively cheap team option in 2014 makes Betancourt a trade chip – but that’s a speculation for another day.
That said, if Brothers can get back to being the top prospect that found success with the team in 2011, 2013 will be a big step in getting him back on track to eventually take over the closer’s role for the Rockies.