Bromberg Gets Down To Details

Over lunch at a Southern California deli, BA’s Dave Perkin sat down with Twins prospect David Bromberg, the newly minted minor league strikeouts leader, and his father Mike to talk pitching drills, life in the minor leagues and Bromberg’s home run prowess.

A 2005 graduate of Palisades High near Malibu, Bromberg was selected by Minnesota in the 32nd round of that year’s draft. After a stint at Santa Ana JC, where he played with Braves righthander Kris Medlen, Bromberg signed as a draft-and-follow for $40,000 in 2006.

Several scouts, myself included, preferred Bromberg as a power-hitting first baseman rather than as a pitcher. Many were impressed by his performance at a home run hitting contest at Mission Viejo High in 2004, where Bromberg out-slugged 2006 first-round pick Hank Conger, among others.

Bromberg has now settled in nicely as a pitcher, despite the fact that he still loves the opportunity to show off in batting practice when he gets a rare chance. Without a hint of braggadocio, Bromberg said: “I took some BP early in the year and hit about 10 balls out of the park. All of the coaches’ jaws dropped. I don’t think they were expecting that.”

Bromberg spent his first two pro seasons in Rookie ball, first in the Gulf Coast League in 2006, then in Elizabethton in the Appalachian League, which functions as the Twins’ advanced rookie team. He ranked as the Appy League’s No. 3 prospect and ranked 15th in the Twins’ organization entering his first full-season stint.

Playing for low Class A Beloit, Bromberg recovered from a sluggish beginning to finish 9-10, 4.44 with a minors-best 177 strikeouts in 150 innings. He was even able to impress Twins senior advisor Terry Ryan. “Ryan is a serious guy and rarely smiles, and kind of looks mean at times,” Bromberg said. “But when someone told him I had led the minors in strikeouts he was surprised and finally cracked a grin.”

Bromberg struggled in the first half of the 2008 season, primarily due to an uncooperative curveball. Twins roving pitching instructor Rick Knapp resurrected an old-fashioned drill to correct the problem. Knapp placed a bucket on top of a small stool and positioned the contraption a few feet in front of Bromberg. Without a baseball in hand, Bromberg would simulate his follow through by fully extending his arm so that his fingers touched the top of the bucket. “It taught me to finish my pitches and follow through completely,” he said. “I had been short arming the ball.”

Twins coaches used another drill that leaves the ball behind, the towel drill. A pitcher whips a towel through the air, generating arm speed and emulating a pitch delivery. Bromberg endorses the drill enthusiastically: “It helped me gain ease in my throwing motion, and I could turn the towel as I whipped it to get a better feel for my curve,” he said.

The results were immediate and Bromberg enjoyed a strong second half. Late in the season he struck out 13 hitters in a game against Burlington. Beloit pitching coach Gary Lucas was particularly impressed by a nasty hammer Bromberg used to end an inning, saying, “That started in fifth-floor menswear and wound up in women’s lingerie in the basement.”

Another impressed party was Mike Moustakas, the second overall pick in the 2007 draft whom Bromberg whiffed three times. Longtime friends, Moustakas, who led the Midwest League with 22 home runs this season, sent Bromberg a text message after the game: “Man, you were downright filthy.”

Bromberg’s mechanics, sketchy in amateur baseball, have been reworked. He said the Twins moved him to the first-base side of the rubber to include his alignment and worked to close his shoulder on his delivery. He also started to get more bend and drive out of his back leg. He’s still trying to improve the time it takes to deliver the ball to home plate, though he allowed just 14 baserunners to steal in 24 attempts.

“With runners on base, I was getting the ball to the plate in 1.29 to 1.37 seconds,” he said. “I corrected and lowered the time to 1.08 to 1.13, but I found I was rushing the ball to the plate with nothing on it. So we’re trying to aim for 1.20 to 1.35 with a slide step. But I don’t use the slide step if a slow runner is on first.”

His first season brought other subtle adjustments. During an early season start, an observant Beloit catcher noticed that Bromberg was tipping his pitches, as he was starting his grip before he put the ball in his glove. Instead he began starting with a changeup grip, then adjusting once his throwing hand went into the glove.

According to Bromberg, Knapp worked with all Twins minor league pitchers on count strategies. “Knapp would draw a diamond, set up a game situation, and then go through all (12) possible counts,” he said. “He would then ask us what we would throw in that situation, and then quiz us as to the why we made that decision. It got me to think much more about what I am doing out there.”

All of which aided Bromberg in pitch selection. At Beloit, Bromberg always called his own game. “What the catcher puts down is just a suggestion. I make the final call.”

Bromberg has a four-pitch repertoire. His four-seam fastball touches 95 mph, and his two-seamer sits in the 90-93 range. On both pitches, Bromberg places his index and middle finger together on top of the ball. “I hardly used my four-seam at all this year,” Bromberg said. “I can control the two-seam better and get so much movement with it, I didn’t need to use the four-seamer much.”

His curveball is his strikeout pitch, and he demonstrated his unusual curveball grip on a baseball I had brought along. Bromberg slides his middle finger along one of the ball’s long seams, and then bends his index finger into a knuckleball type grip, digging a fingernail into another seam. He can adjust the velocity and break on his curve by narrowing or separating the positioning of his fingers on the ball. “My harder slurve is about 83,” he said, “and my slower curve is 75 to 77.”

The circle change is Bromberg’s final offering. He displayed his change grip, with the ball moved over toward his ring and pinkie finger. Bromberg said that approach lends the pitch some screwball movement.

Beyond baseball, a long minor league season is naturally filled with travel, teammate bonding, and off the field experiences. Bromberg considers himself fortunate to have roomed this year with Ben Revere, the speedy center fielder who was the Twins’ first-round pick in 2007.

He lauded the Dow Diamond, home of the Great Lakes Loons, as the MWL’s top ballpark. “The first time I walked in there, I looked around the park and glanced up at the big scoreboard. I thought to myself, ‘Now this is a ballpark.’ ” Bromberg said. “I’ve been in the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, and the clubhouse at Dow was bigger and much nicer.”

Similar praise could not be heaped upon John O’Donnell Stadium, opened in 1931 and home of the Quad Cities River bandits. “We went in there once right after the local river overflowed and flooded the place,” he said. “You could row a boat over the left field fence.”

Despite the success he has enjoyed so far as a pro, Bromberg realizes he is not a finished product. There is always more to do, more to learn, so Bromberg left SoCal on Sept. 17 to report for instructional league in Fort Myers, Fla. “They want me to work on my changeup,” Bromberg said.

All of which brings to mind the observations of a wise long ago baseball man named Kung Fu Tzu. Also known as Confucius, the legendary Chinese philosopher who was rumored to have been a pretty fair lefty in his day. His ruminations on learning could be rightfully applied to baseball instruction:

“What I hear, I forget.

 What I see, I remember.

 What I do, I understand.”