The Orioles are headed to the postseason for the first time since 2014 after winning an American League Wild Card. As this will be the first time that many fans across the Majors will be focusing on their roster, here's our attempt to learn the origins of closer Zach Britton.Zach
The Orioles are headed to the postseason for the first time since 2014 after winning an American League Wild Card. As this will be the first time that many fans across the Majors will be focusing on their roster, here's our attempt to learn the origins of closer Zach Britton.
Zach Britton, LHP
Born: Panorama City, Calif.
HS: Weatherford (Texas) High School
Minors: Bluefield (R), Aberdeen (A-), Delmarva (A), Frederick (A+), Bowie (AA), Norfolk (AAA)
:: Before they were Postseason-bound: Select a player ::
Path to Baltimore: Selected by Baltimore as a high schooler in the third round of the 2006 Draft.
Trophy case: American League All-Star in 2015 and '16. Carolina League Pitcher of the Year in '09 with the Class A Advanced Frederick Keys.
Famous feat(s): Leads the AL in saves and has not blown a save this season -- has converted 47 consecutive saves in 2016 (most in MLB history by a left-hander to start a season). Went 43 straight appearances without allowing an earned run, from May 5 to Aug. 22, setting a Major League record. Saved the All-Star Game for the AL this season.
You might not know: Britton's money pitch is, of course, his bowling-ball sinker, which he throws in the mid-to-upper 90s -- but he developed the pitch by accident. In 2007 at Class A Aberdeen, pitching coach Calvin Maduro tried to teach him a cutter. Instead of cutting, the ball naturally sunk out of his hand. He went with it.
Six degrees of Willie Aikens: Britton's senior year of high school, he played on a Dallas-based travel team with three future big leaguers: Shawn Tolleson, Jordan Walden and a kid named Clayton Kershaw. As Britton recalls, it was actually Tolleson and Walden who were "the 17 guys in Texas" at that point, throwing nearly triple-digit heat, but Kershaw was rapidly improving as well.
Britton describes himself as an outsider on that travel team, since he was the only one not from the Dallas area, but Kershaw went out of his way to be welcoming. They both ended up committing to play at Texas A&M, and they were even going to dorm together -- but then both players got drafted, and both signed.
Older and wiser: Britton says he was a "reckless" kid. His freshman year of high school, while still living in California, he broke his collarbone, fractured his skull and separated a shoulder diving for a ball -- in practice. The freshman baseball field was at a park with big light standards that stood in foul ground and had unprotected concrete bases. Britton went after a foul ball, lost track of where he was, and crashed head-first. He was knocked out and woke up in an ambulance, spending two days in intensive care. "I was crazy at that time, going all-out no matter the situation," he said. "Thankfully, I grew out of that."
Hitter at heart: Britton has always prided himself on his hitting. Signing out of high school was a tough decision for him in part because he knew he was giving up his hitting career. He knows his Major League hitting stats by heart, and they're pretty good: as a rookie in 2011, when he was still a starting pitcher, Britton led AL pitchers in hits, going 5-for-8. He even hit a home run off the Braves' Brandon Beachy at Turner Field. Chipper Jones was playing third base, and as Britton was running around the bag, Jones told him, "Hey, man, slow down and enjoy it."
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @_dadler.