OAKLAND—The Brewers owe the Athletics an assist for their latest bullpen acquisition.
If not for Oakland's diligence in scouting righthander Justin James, whom Milwaukee claimed on waivers in early November, the 29-year-old might be the owner of a sports-nutrition store in Texas right now.
Just when things seemed to bottom out for James following the 2009 season, his younger brother Chad, the 18th overall pick in that year's draft by the Marlins, asked his brother to give baseball another try.
A decade older than his brother, Justin signed with the Blue Jays as a fifth-round pick out of Missouri in 2003. But now he was ready to throw in the towel on a seven-year pro career that included one season in independent ball. Justin's arm hurt and his heart sagged, but he ultimately obliged Chad's request.
"I felt like I was letting him down a little bit (by quitting)," Justin said. "So I gave it one more shot. He had my help when he was growing up, then he gave it back to me."
Newly motivated, James tackled his offseason training regimen with a vengeance, hiring a trainer to help him stretch out his arm. "I got as strong as I could, and I worked on my mechanics," he said.
As a result, James recovered the low-90s velocity in 2010 that had been absent for several years. With more zip, he became a bullpen force for the Northern League's Kansas City T-Bones, posting a 1.69 ERA, six saves and a 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 games.
"I never really thought about being a closer," James said. "But once I did it, I loved it. I'm an aggressive person. I like getting things over real quick."
A's scout Jeff Bittiger noticed the difference and pushed director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi to sign James, which the organization did on June 19.
James responded with consistent success, notching a 1.83 ERA, 49 strikeouts and 16 walks in 39 innings for Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento. On Sept. 1, the A's called him to the big leagues, where he served as bullpen depth and got into five games.
James worked his way to Triple-A with Toronto before being traded to the Reds in 2007. Cincinnati released him at the end of '09 spring training, at which point he joined the T-Bones.
• Echoing James' underdog story, two righthanders plucked off the scrap heap made big impressions in instructional league: Gary Daley (Cardinals third-rounder in 2006) and Jeff Lyman (Braves second-rounder in '05).
• Big league pitching coach Curt Young's decision to leave the A's in late October caught the organization by surprise and could shake up minor league coaching roles.