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May 23, 2011 at 8:08 AM

The Book: Drake Britton

LHP Drake Britton
Date: May 18, 2011
Team: Salem Red Sox
Age: 22

Outing: 5.1 innings, 1 hit, 7 strikeouts, 4 walks, 3 earned runs allowed, 1 home run allowed

Fastball: Operating out of a smooth and fluid delivery, Britton generates easy velocity when throwing his four-seam fastball. Sitting 92-93 MPH and able to reach back effortlessly to hit 95 MPH, his heater explodes out of his hand on its approach to home plate. Opposing batters typically have late swings when going after the offering and he’s capable of producing a high amount of swings and misses with the pitch. At its best when Britton is staying on top of the ball and throwing downward from a high ¾ arm slot, his four-seam fastball shows late hop and finish when tilting down through the strike zone. Still working to consistently repeat his arm slot with his heater, at times he fails to finish out of his delivery and releases the pitch too early, which causes it to sail up and out of the strike zone. The root of Britton’s control struggles stem from this and he has about average command of the offering. Also trying to work in an 88-89 MPH two-seam fastball, his feel of this pitch is on the raw side and it lacks enough movement presently to consistently be effective. Looking more like a flat cutter, batters get better swings at the pitch and it’s hittable when it sits in the middle of the plate.

Secondary Offerings: Britton’s best secondary pitch, and his go-to out-pitch ahead in the count, is his 74-77 MPH plus curveball. Showing excellent teeth and depth as it breaks down through the strike zone, he has a very advanced feel for the offering and can snap it off whenever he wants during sequences. Given the amount of break and tight rotation it has, opposing batters often are frozen or swing over the top of it when he uses it in tandem with a well-commanded fastball. Britton’s curve has the potential to become a well above-average major league offering as he continues to mature as a pitcher. Also throwing a low-80s changeup, this piece of his repertoire has a lot of development in front of it to become a major league caliber offering. Often telegraphing it when he does use it, which is few and far between, Britton’s change does show good separation from his fastball, but he has yet to gain enough trust to work it consistently into his patterns during outings. Developing his changeup is a key need going forward for him.

Take: Struggling with the command and control of his fastball so far season, Britton’s last outing was a good example of the inconsistencies he has shown with the pitch since being placed in High-A to start 2011. When finishing out of his delivery and releasing his heater in sync with his body’s movement towards home plate, it was very difficult for batters to do much with given the velocity and late hop it displayed in the outing. Britton picked up nine swinging strikes with his fastball and another handful of late swings when opposing hitters either fouled it back or popped it up. However, he went into spells where he was arching his back and releasing his fastball too early, causing him to consistently miss outside the strike zone. His four walks in the outing were a product of his lack of control driven by his inability to get his fastball down into the strike zone during at-bats.

With excellent stuff, highlighted by his high octane fastball and knee-buckling curveball, Britton projects as a potential front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher at the major league level. Much of this projection hinges on the development of his changeup. Throwing 80 pitches in his outing against Wilmington, only one of those was a changeup. Coming in at 81 MPH, he considerably slowed his delivery down and had less arm speed throwing it than he did with his fastball. Able to get by right now with his other two pitches, when he reaches Double-A it is going to be important for him to begin to show more trust and feel with his change. Even an average one sprinkled more into outings would greatly enhance his fastball and further put opposing hitters on the defense when trying to catch up to it. At 22 years of age, Britton has time in front of him to develop his changeup and can show good progress with it over the next season or two. The quality of his stuff was very impressive during his last outing. As he learns to reel his fastball in and consistently feel his release point with it, look for his control to stabilize and for Britton to start trending upward towards being ready for a placement in Double-A to start next season.