PEORIA, Ariz. -- Over the past two years, only five closers in all of professional baseball have had more saves. Yet despite being out-saved only by an All-Star cast of Heath Bell, Brian Wilson, Francisco Cordero, Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon, few people know who Brad Brach is.
To be fair, Brach has yet to play above A-ball in the San Diego Padres organization. But the right-hander has racked up 74 saves over his first two full seasons of professional ball, an accomplishment that should not be overlooked.
"I want to have the chance to close out as many games as I can," said Brach, who's been raising his profile with a strong performance here in the Arizona Fall League. "I've had a lot of opportunities and thankfully, I've been able to cash in on most of them. I've been on a couple of good teams. You can't do it without the teams, especially in the closer's role. Getting those opportunities the last few years has been huge."
Getting the opportunities and converting them are two very different things, of course, and while Brach has been moving one level per year so far, it's safe to say he's exceeded expectations. As a 42nd-round Draft pick in 2008, a senior sign out of Monmouth University in New Jersey, that wasn't exactly a high bar to top.
MLB.com's choice for Class A Reliever of the Year when he closed for the Midwest League champion Fort Wayne TinCaps, Brach had a 1.27 ERA and 33 saves in 2009. The Padres had a bit of a logjam in closers, so that performance never earned him a promotion. This year, it was more of the same. Brach finished third in all of the Minors with 41 saves for the Lake Elsinore Storm in the typically hitter-friendly California League. His 2.47 ERA, .207 batting average against and 10.1 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio not only earned him spots on the Cal League mid- and post-season All-Star teams, he was also named the league's Pitcher of the Year.
CLOSING IT OUT
The pitchers with the most saves in professional baseball from 2009-10.
Once again, though, Brach stayed in one spot all year. It's something the 24-year-old is prepared to have to do throughout his career -- prove himself one station at a time -- though he wouldn't mind getting the chance to move more quickly.
"I'm hoping to make a jump, but we'll see," Brach said. "I can't really worry about that. I just have to go out there and keep pitching well and the rest will take care of itself."
The AFL can often act as the kind of springboard for such leaps and Brach is certainly making the most of it. In 10 outings, Brach has a 3.18 ERA and has held hitters to a .146 batting average. He's only been scored on in two appearances and has had hitless outings seven times. He's used his 91-94 mph fastball, average slider and splitter as well as his deceptive delivery to his advantage in his first crack at facing advanced hitters.
"You need to make adjustments," Brach said. "In the lower levels, you always seem to be able to pitch away. At this level, you have to come in a little bit. That's definitely one thing that I've learned, to be able to pitch in."
His performance here may move him from off-the-radar to on the prospect map. He was, after all, named to the elite Rising Stars Game, where he pitched a perfect frame, striking out two batters.
"I still have a ways to go here, but to get named to something like that, I'll cherish it from here on out," Brach said. "It's a good start and it seems like [what I'm doing] is starting to get recognized."
Whether it affords him the opportunity to be a closer down the road remains to be seen. Most who've seen the right-hander see him more as a setup type. Brach is fine with whatever happens in the future, but certainly wouldn't shy away from the opportunity. He's taking a "you never know" approach to his future. And why not? It's not like anyone could have predicted that a senior from a small New Jersey college would do what he's accomplished to date.
"I'd always like an opportunity to do it," Brach said of closing. "I've been hearing I could still end up being a seventh- or eighth-inning guy. As long as I'm up there, I don't care what role it is. But I'd love an opportunity to try and do that."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.