In order to conserve signing bonus cap money, the Rangers selected college seniors with five of their 13 picks in the first 10 rounds. College seniors, given their lack of leverage, are most likely to sign below-slot deals and free up money for a club to give above-slot bonuses to a handful of other picks.
That just might be the case with the Rangers' 11th-round pick, right-handed pitcher Eric Brooks.
The native Texan is coming off his redshirt sophomore season at McLennan Community College. He has the option of signing with the Rangers––for a potentially above-slot bonus––or attending Texas A&M University.
Brooks, who attended Taylor High School––approximately 20 minutes outside of Round Rock––began his collegiate career at the University of Houston. Spending most of his freshman campaign as the Cougars' Sunday starter, he posted a 6.83 earned-run average in 55.1 innings. He allowed 67 hits, walked 24, and struck out 45.
As the hurler explains in the following interview, his fastball sat between 88-90 mph––touching up to 92––out of high school. He also injured his shoulder approximately halfway through his freshman campaign.
Brooks ultimately learned that he'd need to undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder––an injury that is often a death spell for pitchers' careers.
After sitting out and rehabbing during the 2011 campaign, Brooks transferred to McLennan Community College in Waco for his redshirt sophomore season.
When Brooks returned to the mound, he didn't show any lingering effects from the surgery. In fact, his stuff improved.
The 21-year-old began to attract the attention of scouts while throwing in preseason fall scrimmages for the Highlanders. He didn't disappoint during the regular season, leading the club with a 1.49 ERA in 13 games. Over 78.2 innings, he yielded 60 hits, struck out 92, and walked only 12.
More importantly, Brooks showed good stuff while having success. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound prospect flashed a fastball that sat between 90-93 mph, reaching up to 94-96 on occasion. He mixes in a promising slider along with the occasional curveball and changeup. Having run track in high school, he's also a good athlete, which helps him repeat his delivery and command his arsenal.
Brooks says he'll meet with both the Rangers' scouts and Texas A&M coaching staff this weekend before making a final decision on his future. If he signs with the Rangers, he should join the starting rotation at short-season Spokane. Should he honor his letter of intent and head to College Station, he could be the Aggies' Friday starter next year.
Lone Star Dugout caught up with the Austin-area prospect on Friday.
Jason Cole: Tell me about the experience of getting drafted by the Rangers.
Eric Brooks: I've been a Rangers fan my entire life. I grew up watching the Rangers. You've got to support a team from your home state, and the Rangers are the team that I followed. When my name got called in the 11th round, it was a weight off my shoulders. That was one of the happiest moments of my life. It's one of those moments that I'll never forget.
Cole: You went to the Rangers in the 11th round. Did you end up being picked about where you expected? Did you have a range where you were watching for your name?
Brooks: I was told that I was supposed to go anywhere from the fourth through the eighth. Around the seventh and eighth, I was starting to get a little concerned. And then we got through the first 10, and I was wondering what was going on. Then my name got called in the 11th. I was a little upset but happy at the same time.
Then I heard about what happened in rounds six through 10, with the teams drafting college seniors. I understood that teams had to do what they had to do. I was happy just to get my name called.
Cole: How was that, with the new rules? We've heard about it from the teams' perspective so far of trying to use the new rules to their advantage. You experienced the new method in the first draft, going in the 11th round.
Brooks: It was just a new experience for me. I didn't get drafted out of high school, and I was finally eligible this year. The draft has been the same forever, and then this year, I was talking to scouts and they were confused about how it was going to work.
Whenever the Rangers called me during the draft, Jay (Eddings) even sounded a little confused as to what was going on. Me and him talked about it. He said that it was a new draft, and it was weird how things turned out.
I also talked to the A&M coaches, and they didn't know what me getting drafted in the 11th round meant because they expected me to go higher. I think it's new for everybody. It just happened to work out the way it did.
Cole: When it got to the 11th round and you were picked, were you still following the draft or had you stepped away to clear your mind?
Brooks: I had stepped outside for a little bit. My grandpa and one of my good buddies were inside and still watching the draft. I didn't get to hear my name called because I had stepped outside. But they ran outside and said, ‘You just got picked by the Rangers in the 11th round.' I missed it, but it didn't take away from the fact that I was very ecstatic about it.
Cole: Your area scouts with the Rangers this year were Jay Eddings and Steve Watson. Tell me about your relationship with them. How much contact have you had with them over the last year? How often did they watch you pitch?
Brooks: Steve actually came out during the fall when I was making my first few starts off of surgery. I was throwing well, so he came to my outings throughout the fall. And then once the season started, he and Jay both were there. And they were at every single one of my home starts, so I have a good relationship with both of them. I'm very comfortable around them.
Cole: Because the Rangers have been on you so heavily this season, did you think there was a good chance they'd take you?
Brooks: Yes, they showed the most interest from the get-go. I had a good feeling that I was going to get drafted by them.
Cole: You mentioned the surgery. You redshirted in 2011 while at the University of Houston, and that was after your freshman season in 2010. Was that because of an injury?
Brooks: Yes. I redshirted because I sat out due to labrum surgery.
Cole: When did you have the surgery? And tell me what that process was like. I know it can often be a questionable injury for pitchers, but only missing one season and returning strong to start the 2012 campaign sounds like a pretty smooth recovery.
Brooks: I had surgery on September 8, 2010. I recovered quickly. I was throwing after six months, and I got on the mound after around seven or eighth months. It wasn't all-out obviously––it was just touch-and-feel type stuff. But my arm felt good.
Once summer hit, I started throwing flat grounds and bullpens. Once fall came around, my arm felt good. I felt like I was at 100 percent at the beginning of the season. My doctor told me it would take two years before I was at 100 percent, and it was before I hit the year mark that I felt good.
Cole: Going back to your freshman year at U of H, you were third on the team with nine starts. Were you a weekend starter for part of the year in 2010?
Brooks: Yes, sir. I started off as the Sunday starter. I made my first two or three starts, and then I moved to the bullpen. And then once we hit the west coast, I got my Sunday job back. And then I was the Sunday starter for the rest of the year.
Cole: Coming off that surgery, what led to you ultimately deciding to transfer to McLennan?
Brooks: A lack of communication with the U of H coaching staff. They wanted me to pitch last season, and my doctor wasn't going to release me. There was some trouble there, so I decided it was best if we just went our separate ways.
Cole: Coming off the pretty serious surgery you had, were you even thinking about the draft when making the decision to transfer?
Brooks: Coming off surgery, I was not thinking about the draft. I was just thinking about getting back into the swing of things. I wanted to continue playing baseball, and I just wanted to make sure that I went from where I had a chance to either go to another D1 school or get drafted. I started thinking about the draft process at the beginning of the season. But coming off of the surgery, I was not thinking about the draft.
Cole: Coming out of Taylor High School in the Austin area, were you a guy who was on the draft radar?
Brooks: I got invited to Area Code and Perfect Game, but I never did any of that. I did play summer ball, but I was sort of injury-prone––not for my arm, but I broke my nose and did a couple other things that prevented me from doing the Area Code stuff. So I'd say that I was pretty much off the radar coming out of high school.
Cole: You had a breakout season at McLennan this year. How'd you feel about your performance?
Brooks: I was happy with how this season went. I just wanted to give the team a chance to win. I wasn't worried about my personal success as much as I was worried about team success. And that's just because I've always been a team guy. But, like I said, I'm very happy with how the season turned out.
Brooks: I see myself as a power pitcher because this season, my velo was anywhere from 92 to 96 mph. I have a four-seam fastball, two-seam, slider, curveball, and changeup.
I threw my curveball during the first half of the season, and in the second half of the season I threw a slider. I just had a better feel for my slider in the second half, and that's why I stopped throwing my curveball. But I have both.
Cole: Is your velocity up a little bit post-surgery?
Brooks: It's up a lot after surgery. Before surgery, I was anywhere between 88-90 mph. I'd run it up to 91 or 92. And then, this fall, I hit 96 mph. I had never thrown that hard. It was really weird because coming off of labrum surgery, most guys struggle to get back to where they were. But I gained four miles per hour on my fastball.
Cole: Have you talked to any doctors or anybody who knows why that happened? Although pitchers often gain a tick of velocity after having Tommy John surgery, as you mentioned, they often struggle to regain their original velo following shoulder surgery.
Brooks: No. Most of the people that I've talked to about it say that it's the first time they've seen anyone come back with that much success from labrum surgery.
Cole: Is the shoulder injury something you were feeling much during high school or your freshman year at Houston?
Brooks: No, it was not during high school. It was midway through my freshman year. It started taking me longer to get loose. I needed more time after a start. It was about midway through my freshman year when I started having arm problems, and I just continued the season.
I pitched the rest of the season with that. That summer, I was throwing with one of my buddies, and I had this sharp pain in my shoulder. I said, ‘Uh oh.' Then I went and got an MRI, and it was torn.
Cole: You've signed a letter of intent with Texas A&M. Had you grown up an Aggie?
Brooks: Yes, I've grown up an Aggie my entire life. My family––they're big Aggie fans. I've always followed Aggie sports. It was my dream school, growing up as a kid. I wanted to go there out of high school, but I didn't have the opportunity to. Whenever they offered me a scholarship, I had to jump on that.
Cole: Dating back to his career at the University of Nebraska, Rob Childress has a fantastic reputation with developing pitchers. He's obviously continued that at A&M with guys like Barret Loux and Michael Wacha. Did that play a factor in the decision?
Brooks: Definitely. Coach Childress is a great pitching coach. I just wanted to make sure that I'm in good hands if A&M is what I decide to do. I'd feel very comfortable going there.
Cole: Talk about the tough decision that you have to make, as an 11th-round guy. You've obviously spent basically three years in college, but you'll only be a junior next season if you go to school. What does the decision ultimately come down to for you?
Brooks: What it comes down to is what's best for myself and my family. I have been in college for three years. I've had the college experience. I feel like I'm mentally, physically, and emotionally ready for pro ball.
But what it comes down to is giving the A&M coaches a chance to talk to me, seeing what the Rangers have to say, and then making a decision that I feel is going to best impact my future in the game. I'll make a decision Sunday night or Monday morning.
Cole: So you'll be meeting with both the Rangers and the A&M coaching staff before making that decision?
Brooks: Yes, I will.
Cole: When you talk to the Rangers' scouts or A&M coaches, have they mentioned whether they view you as a starting pitcher or a late-inning reliever?
Brooks: A&M wants me to be the Friday night starter. If I decide to sign with the Rangers, (scouting director) Kip (Fagg) told me that I'll be starting up in Spokane. So I'm assuming that right now, it's a starter for both.