Milbrath’s switch may be fast track to big leagues

Submitted photo Jordan Milbrath (left) stands with teammates after winning the East League Championship last fall.

LYNCHBURG, VA — Change in the professional world is difficult for anyone. But in Jordan Milbrath’s case, that initial difficulty could have been the key for someone chasing his big league dreams.

The 2016 season for Milbrath was unforgettable to say the least. Milbrath, a 2010 graduate of Springfield High School, was called up to the Cleveland Indians’ AA affiliate in Akron for the playoff run. Akron ended up winning the Eastern League championship and for Milbrath, it seemed like he was ascending the minor league ladder in the Indians’ organization after a couple of years in Class A.

Fast forward to spring training 2017, and Milbrath was having a good spring and was ready to make the move back to Akron when he got the news that he didn’t want to hear.

After practice, he was approached by members of the organization and was informed he’d be taking a step back to High A in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he spent a majority of the 2016 season before being called up to AA. He learned that the Indians had bigger plans for the 6-foot-6 right-hander.

“At the end of spring training, they came up to me (after) I had actually brought my bags to the field and said ‘we have an idea, we went through the organization from the top down if we had a candidate who could throw sidearm and your name came up.'”

Submitted photo Jordan Milbrath delivers a pitch with his new sidearm motion with the Lynchburg Hillcats, a Class A team in the Cleveland Indians minor league organization. Milbrath switched his delivery style prior to the start of the season because the Indians thought it could be his fastest way to reaching the majors.

Milbrath was being asked to learn to throw sidearm, something he’d never done before in his career. It seemed odd at first, but it just might be the change that moves him through the organization quickly if he’s able to figure it out.

Milbrath was a 35th round selection by the Indians in 2013 out of Augustana College. He played for the Lake County Captains (Class A) and then went to the Arizona Fall League that year to get some extended training. He played the 2014 and 2015 season with Lake County and spent time as a starting pitcher.

In the 2016 season he spent a majority of the year with Lynchburg at High A before his AA promotion at Akron. It appeared he was going to stay with Akron before the Indians broke the news to him as everyone was about to head north for the regular season.

He was re-assigned to extended spring training where he learned from scratch the art of the sidearm delivery.

“I was down in Arizona for a couple of weeks, then got called up to Akron and got activated and they decided that I should get more innings down in Lynchburg,” he said. “I’ve been here for just under two months, so it’s been a wild ride to start the year.”


The initial shock and adjustment

The Indians had noticed something in Milbrath’s delivery and throwing motion that sparked some interest in the change to sidearm. After considering some options, Milbrath eventually was asked to consider the change, one he took with some reluctance.

“They mentioned to me that when I throw practice ground balls, I tend to throw a little sidearm and that it seemed like a natural thing for me,” Milbrath said. “They kind of wanted to experiment, because they told me they’ve done studies and if you have a sidearmer, it kind of separates yourself, and big league clubs can use them because it actually helps the relievers because it’s a different look.

“Initially, I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to a team right away and they wanted me to change so drastically,” Milbrath said. “I have faith in what they were saying and they obviously had faith in me and that could fast track me hopefully to the big leagues.”

So far he’s having his best year to date, including the 2014 year when he was named a Mid-Season All-Star. In 12 games this year, he’s thrown 21 innings and has an ERA of 2.57. He has a 2-1 record and has allowed just 15 hits and has struck out 29 batters. Opponents are hitting just .203 off of him.

He said he has about the same velocity throwing sidearm as he does throwing regular, so that was another plus for him. However, learning to pitch from a new motion with a variety of pitches wasn’t easy at first, but it’s gradually getting there to where he feels completely comfortable.

“All the sidearm action, even though it’s all natural, it’s still new to me,” Milbrath said. “One day (my control) might be locked in, the next day I might be missing as the ball’s running too much. Then I gotta figure out what it is I’m doing wrong and some days it’s hard to figure out what you’re doing wrong, when you’ve only been doing it for two months.”

Physically, Milbrath throws hard enough to keep climbing the minor league ladder. Early on, the biggest obstacle isn’t his tools, but accepting the role in his mind.

“I think the most difficult thing was that I’ve never done it before in my life and the mentality for anyone trying something new is always uncomfortable,” Milbrath said. “Once I got over it mentally, I realized maybe something’s going on here where I will reach the big leagues, which is my only goal here.”

A faster track to Cleveland?

Milbrath is just 25 years old. In the grand scheme of things, he’s just starting his life as an adult. But as a professional baseball player, 25 is a complicated age. It means he’s no longer considered a long-term prospect that the Indians can wait a few years on and develop. Of course, that also means he’s still young enough to figure things out and if he’s able to master this new craft, he could progress quickly in the minors.

Now more than ever, Progressive Field is the ultimate goal and he’s starting to realize that.

“I’m trying to fast track it, obviously I’m not here to play minor league baseball anymore, I’m trying to get to the big leagues or move on,” Milbrath said. “I think this is a good opportunity for me but I also know that my time is limited and I need to figure this out.”

Needless to say, the confidence is soaring as the production gets better.

“Since I changed to sidearm, my confidence is actually the best it’s ever been,” Milbrath said. “I’m getting all kinds of ground balls, the walks are maybe a little higher than I want them to be, but it’s still a little new. I’m starting to realize my role and how to get prepared for each game. I’m starting to learn my role and I’m become more comfortable now with it what I’m doing.”