This Rockies pick left behind football in favor of the diamond

July 15th, 2024

Unless you’re someone like Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson, even if you excel at multiple sports at a very high level, there usually comes a time where you have to give up one in order to excel at the other.

stretched it for as long as he could. A three-star wide receiver at his Iowa high school who also showed off elite-level stuff on the mound his senior year at Ankeny High, he was intent on playing football and baseball at the University of Iowa.

After redshirting in football his freshman year, he didn’t see a lot of time on the gridiron as a sophomore, catching nine passes over 11 games. Things on the mound meanwhile were going better, both in terms of playing time and results. After making 17 appearances, nearly all out of the bullpen, as a freshman in 2022, he moved into the rotation as a sophomore and led all Division I arms with a .143 batting average against while he also struck out 12.7 per nine. As much as he loved his dual-sport status and didn’t want to give up football, he could see the writing on the wall.

“It was definitely the toughest decision I've had to make in my life,” said Brecht, who was selected by the Rockies in Competitive Balance Round A of the 2024 Draft (No. 38 overall). “Football is and probably will be my number-one love. It's always what I wanted to do when I was a kid, just go play football. To give that up, or to chase something that I think I can be great at was definitely a tough decision for me that I had to make.

“But just talking to my family and friends, praying about it and weighing out the options, I just thought it was good to give it up and just have a healthy fall, and just to focus on baseball. I'm excited that I made the decision. It was definitely tough, but I'd make it 10 times over.”

As the ace of the Hawkeyes staff in 2024, Brecht was once again tough to hit. He finished the year with a .165 batting average against and struck out 14.7 per nine. And while he was no longer running routes and hitting people, there is a certain football mindset he’ll never let go of, even if he understands he needs to temper it for him to find consistent success as a starting pitcher at the next level.

“I love that bulldog mentality out there and I think it translates well,” Brecht said. “I had to find like a happy medium of it though, because sometimes I get so frustrated out there. It’s easier in football, when you get frustrated and the whistle blows, you can go pop somebody in the mouth. But in baseball, you probably shouldn't do that, or you're probably going to get tossed. So I had to figure out how to channel that.”

Brecht has used several avenues to help him slow that motor down. He’s become a fan of meditating and breathing exercises. He has a physical release on the mound, wiping away the rubber, that helps him quickly reset. As that part of his emotional maturity has grown, so has his overall feel for pitching. Command has always been the biggest issue, and his 5.6 BB/9 rate was the lowest of his college career. (He’ll leave with a combined 6.8 BB/9 rate over his three years at Iowa.)

But it seemed like a light went off at the end of his junior season this year. Over the final six starts of the year, spanning 38 innings, Brecht walked just 4.0 per nine And if you take out a one-inning, four-walk outing, that rate drops to 3.7. He went at least seven innings in each of those starts, recording double-digit strikeouts in four of them. While there definitely were some adjustments made mechanically -- scouts were not thrilled with changes Iowa coaches made both in Brecht’s delivery and his pitch usage -- Brecht gives all the credit to adjustments made between his ears.

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“Honestly, it was all mental approach,” Brecht said. “I started working with a mental performance coach named Brian Cain and he really changed the whole way I go about executing a pitch and committing to a pitch at a time. His big things are intention and execution. The only thing you can do as a pitcher is control executing one pitch at a time. That’s the only thing you should be worrying about.”

He also tried not to concern himself with where he’d go in the Draft or some of the lofty comparisons that get mentioned when evaluators talk about his pure stuff. With a fastball that touches triple digits and a nasty upper-80s slider that tops out at 91 mph and missed bats at a 56-percent rate this year, according to Synergy, the effectiveness of his heater-breaking ball combination, when it’s at its best, has reminded some of last year’s No. 1 overall pick, newly minted National League All-Star Paul Skenes.

“It’s cool; there’s a reason he’s in the big leagues,” Brecht said of the stuff comparison. "A year ago, he’s playing in the [College] World Series. He’s a special dude, a generational-type guy. But one of my affirmations is, ‘I compete, I don’t compare.’ I just go out there and compete and I don’t worry about anything else. I want to be the best version of myself. And I think the best version of myself is better than anybody.”