Milbrath’s Mission: Miami
Milbrath, a 2010 Springfield High School graduate, is entering the final year of his seven-year minor league contract and he’s not entirely sure where the unpredictable world of professional baseball will take him after this season. He’s hoping that this is the year he reaches the ultimate destination of The Show. But as a Class AA pitcher with a new team this year, he’s fine if the dream never reaches that level and he’s fine with settling into an everyday lifestyle that doesn’t involve long bus trips on a weekly basis and hotel stays.
Milbrath is 27-years old and he was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Miami Marlins organization this past February. He’s playing for the Marlins AA affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida (Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp) and it has become home for now, even though it’s not one that is probably long term.
A new start in Florida
Milbrath has pitched pretty much his entire career for the Cleveland Indians organization. That path altered a bit in 2017 when Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the Rule 5 draft. After he competed for a spot on Pittsburgh’s 25-man opening-day roster that spring, he was waived and returned to Cleveland before the start of the season.
The 2018 season went well for Milbrath. In just his second year with a new sidearm delivery (he was asked to switch to a sidearm delivery during to the 2017 season with Lynchburg, the Class A-Advanced Carolina League team for the Indians), Milbrath earned a call-up to Class AAA at the end of the season.
Milbrath learned of the trade from the Indians to the Marlins on February 4. At that time, he was getting ready to head south for Spring Training, although to the west side of the country in Arizona.
“Taylor [Milbrath’s wife] and I were planning on going to Arizona that Friday, so we started packing the car, but once we knew we were traded, we just took out the coats and we knew were going to to Florida,” he said.
While the thought of living in Florida is exciting for most, it’s all about business for the Milbraths.
“We’re getting acclimated into Jacksonville, I’ve just been getting to know my new teammates and adapting,” he said. “This is a brand new league for me, too. I’ve never played in the Southern League, all of my other leagues [Eastern and International Leagues] were up in the northeastern areas, so this is kind of a new area for me. We go to Mississippi, Tennessee, it’s just kind of all over. All new scenery for me so it’s been kind of an adjustment, but at the end of the day, it’s still baseball. I just kind of do what I do.”
So far, what he’s been doing has worked out. He’s averaging more than a strikeout per inning. Still in a relief role, he’s 1-0 as of Monday, April 22 with an ERA of 0 in 9 1/3 innings, including 13 strikeouts. While it’s still early in the season, it’s encouraging for him to see that things are going well so fast. His confidence is up and everything seems to feel right on the mound.
“I think the ability to repeat my mechanics and I think it feels like I’m in a good mental place,” he said. “It feels like I have something to work for on the line. This is the last year of my 7-year minor league contract, so I become a free agent at the end of this year. There’s a lot going on and a lot can change over the course of a season, but it just feels good to show up at the ballpark every day and have something on the line that way.”
Settling in as a sidearmer
Milbrath went through a huge transformation heading into the 2017 season. After he was waived by the Pirates and came back to the Indians, he was asked by the Indians to alter his delivery and become a sidearm pitcher.
Milbrath wanted his career to continue and did as they asked him. That first year, he adjusted quickly despite not having mastery of his pitches. But as the season went on, he felt more and more comfortable.
That season, he had a 5-3 record over two minor league stops with a 3.02 ERA. He followed that up in 2018 with a 3-6 record (3.96 ERA) over two minor league stops, including a promotion to Class AAA.
While it took a little while to be completely comfortable with the new delivery, he said he’s there now.
“I’ve been doing this for a little over two years now,” he said. “My first year it was easy for me to pick up on when there was coaches there all the time, they’d tell me if it was a good pitch or what I needed to work on. Last year, I was kind of on my own as far as the pitch-to-pitch, game-to-game, month-to-month adjustments. If I felt something was wrong, I had to look at video or the statistics and figure out what happened. I didn’t have the coaches to tell me what was right or wrong all the time so I had to become my own best coach in order to pitch. I feel like I’m just finally in a place where I can coach myself and I can make the adjustments game to game.”
In the meantime, he’s been able to take all the ideas from all of his pitching coaches and learn from that moving forward.
“It’s my job to take the little bits and pieces from everyone and just keep learning,” he said. “As far as from an organizational standpoint, it’s just go out there and get some outs.”
Will the road continue?
It’s hard to say what will happen with Milbrath this year. Hard-throwing, sidearm right-handers aren’t exactly all over, which means if the Marlins can’t use him, maybe someone will use him as an asset for their bullpen. But if not, he’s ready to see where life after baseball takes him, too.
“There’s a lot on the line, I understand that, but weirdly, as I get older, things get a little more clear and I’m okay with whatever happens,” he said. “I feel like God has plan in my life, whether that’s baseball and living in Miami or Springfield, I’m content with whatever is in store for me.”
He’s not just auditioning for the Marlins, but for the rest of the league. The Marlins are undergoing a rebuilding mode and perhaps Milbrath fits in the plans.
“That’s a huge part of being mentally calm,” he said. “The last couple of years, it kind of felt like I was stuck in Cleveland, but if you look at it as an opportunity where you’re performing as a showcase for other teams, that puts the emphasis on the situation, other teams are watching always and a trade could happen or you could sign somewhere as a free agent. Anything can happen for any team.”