This article was originally published in December 2019
The Yankees initially drafted right-handed pitcher Brooks Kriske in the sixth round of the 2016 draft out of the University of Southern California. The former Trojan closer immediately impressed in his first professional season, but his season was cut short due to injury.
Kriske ended up missing the entire 2017 season and the first part of the 2018 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He returned to game action in the second half of the 2018 season, and after having his first real healthy offseason, he came out the gate in 2019 on fire.
He opened the 2019 season in Class-A Advanced Tampa, where he dominated. In seven games, he allowed just one unearned run on four hits while striking out 16 batters. He pitched to a 0.75 WHIP and a FIP of 2.14.
His success earned him an early promotion to Double-A Trenton, where he continued his dominance out of the bullpen. Kriske would not allow an earned run to score until his fifth appearance with the Thunder; overall, he pitched to a 2.59 ERA with a 2-2 record and 64 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings in Double-A.This interview is an example of the type of content that Pinstriped Prospects Dugout Members receive. Dugout Members get complete access to scouting reports, interviews and more all with limited advertisements on the website. Click here to sign up!
Pinstriped Prospects: First, I want to congratulate you on being added to the Yankees 40-man roster this off-season. Did that news come as a surprise to you? Where were you when you got the news?
Brooks Kriske: Thank you first off, it did come out as a surprise to me. I am thankful that the Yankees put me on the roster. I found out the news right at the deadline. Jose Rosado, my pitching coach from High-A, he Facetimed me. I thought it was a little weird, and he kind of nonchalantly asked me how my off-season was going, and we caught up, and he gave me the news and some kind words. I was honestly shocked; I didn’t have much to say. But it was a pretty surreal feeling.
PP: Looking back some of our old features on you, I came across the tidbit that you were named after Brooks Robinson and your family kept in touch with him over the years. Do you still keep in touch with him? What advice has he given you over the years that has helped you in your minor league career?
BK: Yea, actually this season during the all-star break, my parents came out and visited, and we went to Washington D.C. On our way back up to Trenton, we stopped in Baltimore and met with Brooks and his wife, Connie. We hung out at the house for a few hours and went out to get food and caught up. I think the main thing I learned from him throughout my whole life that I have known him is that he always talks about being a good person. Anyone that I have ever met that has met Brooks Robinson or talked to Brooks talks about how much of a gentleman he is and how he treats people with respect and kindness. I think that is something that goes a long way. You build relationships, you have people that want to help you out, and you’re helping them out. It is kind of beneficial to both sides, and I think that is the main thing. It has always been off-the-field stuff when it comes to him and kind of the mental side. It is kind of a fraternity, the whole baseball world. Everyone kind of knows everyone, and it is important to keep those friendships.
PP: This was your first chance to pitch a full season after coming back from Tommy John Surgery, you had a healthy offseason and came into the year strong. Now that the season is over with, how would you evaluate your 2019 season?
BK: Obviously, I had my first fully healthy offseason as well for like five months, six months. So, the first day I got back from Charleston, I started my lifting program. And I started a new throwing program at a place called X2 Athletic Performance here in Scottsdale, and I got on weighted ball program, and you know I was using the Rhapsodo, and so I made a lot of big changes, and I wasn’t sure what to expect when I showed up to spring training.
I definitely had a jump in velocity, and I still needed to work on the secondary stuff. So, when I went to High-A, it was still a lot of fastballs, and I was working with Rosie on the slider. And once I got a feel for that, I moved to Trenton and then in Trenton. It was really developing the secondaries. And you know, I think they came along a long way, and I added the splitter, which I think is probably my second-best pitch now, it’s kind of jumped the slider for me. As a whole to my body felt good, I stayed healthy. There’s never a day I wasn’t able to go. So, I was happy about that. And obviously, there’s still plenty to work on and, and timeout but you know, I think it went well.
PP: Looking back at the 2019 season, you did not allow an earned run until May 13, which was your 12th appearance of the year (your fifth game in Trenton). Looking back at that streak of games, what was that like for you?
BK: I got lucky with my teammates making the plays behind me. I knew it wouldn’t last forever, but I tried to make it last as long as possible and give myself a good cushion for the year. But year, I mean, I definitely don’t think it was the best I was pitching the whole year but results-wise, it probably was.
PP: In a previous interview this season, you mentioned that you made some mechanical adjustments during the off-season that helped you. Can you tell us more about those changes?
BK: Yeah, I hopped on the weighted ball program. And just naturally, it’s actually kind of funny because I know Lucas Giolito from the high school days, and he hopped on a weighted ball program this offseason, and both of us kind of non-purposely shorten up our arm action. I had a really short arm action this past year before it was really long. And I think it kind of led to some inconsistency with release points and you know, it wasn’t super-efficient.
I kind of then learned how to incorporate the lower half more with the owner of X2 here in Scottsdale, Luke Haggerty. He was the story of the 38-year old that sign with the Cubs last year out of one of those Driveline Pro Days. But you know, he has tons of drills for us, and it’s really a one-on-one approach. So, he tailored it to me and how my body works. I was able to gain the extra, three or four miles an hour on which you know makes a huge difference.
PP: You also mentioned that you made the addition of a splitter into your arsenal. How has that pitch helped you this season?
BK: I threw in a game where Scotty Aldred was there. And I struggled a little bit, but I faced a handful of lefties, and I was just going only fastballs to them, and the slider wasn’t exactly working against them. So after the game, he spoke to me and said that he thought it’d be a good idea that he thinks that it’s something I’ll be able to do with my arm action and the way I throw so I went to the hotel that night, and I was looking up guys with good splitters and Kirby Yates came up. And obviously, he dominated the last couple years with that pitch, so I was looking at pictures on how he gripped it and watched a bunch of videos of it, and I kind of brought it to Norty, and you know, we tinkered with it for a few weeks, but it felt good right away. It’s not necessarily a finesse pitch, it is kind of a grip and rip pitch. And you know, luckily, I got a good feel for it. I am still working on making it consistent. It was a tough pitch to really get consistent, but I think I made big strides with that.
PP: Let’s talk about some of your other pitches. How has the slider developed over the last year?
BK: I’ve been trying to get kind of more power behind it tinkering with the shape of it. I at the end of the year and Trenton, I was really in a good spot with it where I felt like I was had the good power behind it, and it was short, It wasn’t popping out of my hand. You know, I was getting a lot like worse swings on it. So, you know, I wrote stuff down on what I was thinking, and I have a video of it. And now in the off-season, it’s just trying to make that consistent.
PP: Since you been drafted, there has been a huge leap forward in how players are developed through the use of advanced analytics, biometrics, radar technologies, etc. How have those advancements factored into your development?
BK: I think it just understands who you are, and kind of realizing that everything is based off your fastball. So a lot of times you would look at a guy like me, I throw a four-seam fastball that has ride on it, and I would look at a guy that throws a sinker and a really good slider that worked with his sinker. I would try to turn his type of slider, and It’s not as effective with my fastball.
So, I think it’s kind of just more understanding yourself. And then you get actual feedback on how consistent those pitches are moving. Sometimes you’re I will lie to you. Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the main thing where it’s just the instant feedback, you know, you kind of know what you can tinker with in order to make a change, where if you want more break on a pitch, now you know exactly what you need to do out there.
PP: They sort of make bullpen and practice-time are much more important than in the past.
BK: If you’re not using this stuff, you’re falling behind. Obviously, there are guys that are super talented that naturally, they do everything that basically these machines are reading as good and will lead to success. But I mean for most people there’s there are things that you can always improve on, and I think this is just giving you that extra edge that is necessary, especially at the higher levels as you move up. They say it’s a game of inches; I say it is a game of millimeters. And, you know, it’s important to get any type of advantage you can.
PP: How do you feel you have grown as a pitcher since you were drafted?
BK: I’ve changed a little bit, but, you know, I’ve kept some of what I think initially got me drafted by the Yankees. But obviously, you know, everyone, all the staff, and pitching coaches, you know, they’ve been a huge help. I talked a lot about the, like the intra-organization competition, you know, you see so many great pitchers and, you know, everyone’s willing to help each other out and push each other, and sometimes it feels like you’re competing against each other like on the same team. Everyone’s pushing each other to get better, and I think that’s why you see such a deep farm system with so many talented players and you see guys move on to other organizations and become big-time guys for other organizations while they might have been kind of under the radar with us. I think it kind of gives people a chip on the shoulder, and I think it’s done, obviously a great job and, you know, pushing people and, and finding the good in people and, you know, developing guys.
PP: You have only appeared in one major league spring training game in your career, and that was last season. Are you looking forward to reporting to Tampa in February to take part in your first MLB spring training camp?
BK: I technically haven’t gotten the invite, but I will be. I’ll be heading out in early February. And yeah, you know, of course. There are so many great players and guys that I can learn from and gain experience and something that’ll help propel my career further.
PP: Is there any particular major leaguer that you are looking forward to learning from?
BK: I think a guy that I’ve always really enjoyed watching is Chad Green. You know, I liked his demeanor and the way he pitches and attacks the zone. So, I’d like to learn a little bit from him and hopefully pick up from the other guys in the bullpen.
PP: With the addition of Gerrit Cole to the Yankees roster, does that bring a little extra excitement as you go into spring training?
BK: Oh, of course, I mean, he is the best pitcher in the world right now. As a California kid, I don’t know him personally, but I have a lot of close friends, and family friends that are friends with his family as well so I could learn a thing or two from him and kind of soak in as much information as possible.
PP: During your college days, you were a closer, in your minor league career, you have 19 saves in 24 opportunities. Is that the type of role you envision for yourself in the major leagues?
BK: Yeah, I mean, I think if you’re a reliever you want to be a closer and if you’re a starting pitcher you want to be the ace, but you know, there’s only one, one guy that can be that person. So obviously I’m striving for that. The benefit of that is you kind of know when you’re going to pitch and make things a little bit easier, but I’m fine with wherever I need to throw. I don’t think it really will affect the way that I throw and success I have.
PP: What teammates have stood out to you during the 2019 season that fans might not have heard as much about?
BK: I think a couple of guys are, a real close friend of mine, Trevor Lane. He is my catch partner, and we are always pushing each other. He is such a bulldog on the mound. He’s not necessarily under the radar name. But um, you know, he’s a guy that I’ve learned a lot from. James Reeves is another guy I think he’s the absolutely most beloved guy in the entire organization. And obviously, the numbers he’s put up the last few years are insane, and there’s just so many guys obviously that I haven’t played with a ton of guys I kind of was in Staten for a few years and then moved quickly, but you know, all the guys on that Trenton team this year, we’re great I really love showing up to the field every day, and there’s a really fun team to be a part of.
PP: What goals have you set for yourself for the 2020 season?
BK: Overall, it’s just to improve and get better and to learn. There are so many things that are not results based I can get better at, the preparation and my mound presence, and the way I attack hitters. There’s a lot to improve upon. And I mean at the same time, just go out there and being myself and you know, trusting not trying to do too much now that I’m on the 40-man, just realizing that the Yankees put me there for a reason and you know, just being myself