MLB: Seattle Mariners at Detroit Tigers

theScore’s Steph Rogers spent a week covering the AFL, talking with many of baseball’s future stars. Check out her talk with Mariners pitcher Brandon Maurer, who raced up Seattle’s depth chart to make 14 starts at the big league level in 2013.

Brandon Maurer is a big presence. At 6-foot-5, he seems far too broad for the small dugout bench at HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa. At 22, Maurer had never pitched an inning beyond Double-A when he won a spot in the Seattle Mariners starting rotation out of spring training. Maybe there’s an advantage to filling big shoes early on.

In Jackson with the Generals, the California-native was on cruise control through 2012. He pitched a career-high 137 2/3 innings, struck out 117 and gave up just four home runs en route to a 9-2 record with a 3.20 ERA.

Prospect watchers would know that James Paxton, and even the younger Taijuan Walker were projected to land in Seattle before Maurer, a 23rd round pick by the Mariners in 2008. Instead, the right-hander boasted an 0.90 ERA through his first 20 innings in the spring with 22 strikeouts, and stood beside Felix Hernandez when the Mariners opened at Safeco Field on April, 8, 2013. He’d earned it.

A day later, Maurer was roughed up against new AL West division rivals, the Houston Astros. He’ll talk about that moment of complete loneliness, captured by the Associated Press in a photo. It’s one of the few professional shots in existence from that outing because it was so short.

By his 23rd birthday on July 3, he was settled into the Pacific Coast League with Triple-A Tacoma. He earned a promotion by the last day of the month, easing back into Seattle’s good graces by coming out of the bullpen.

Maurer doesn’t skip around his troubles. He speaks honestly, without much use for cliches.

He laughs about the moments he remembers, and his interest peaks when he dives into his playlist. It’s easy to picture Maurer as someone familiar; that laidback friend who is easy to talk to about life and work and how commercial-free radio really is the easiest way to let go of all the stress (even if he’s talking about six runs on seven hits in two thirds of an inning, like that day against the Astros).

For the Peoria Javelinas, there were characteristic ups and downs. He struck out 17 in his 19 2/3 Fall League innings, but offered opposing batters a .288 average. In Maurer’s Oct. 24 start, he pitched four shutout innings, allowing just two hits. Three starts later, he gave up four earned runs in two innings, without managing a K to his name.

According to MLB.com’s Jim Callis, who used TrackMan to record some of the non-traditional stats for the class of 2013, Maurer had the highest average spin of the Fall Leaguers on his curveball — 3,142 RPM on a 75-mph pitch. A typical MLB curve is 76 mph with 2,400 RPM.

But hey, it’s always the little things, no matter how big you are.

SR: What was the first piece of advice you can remember that actually changed the way you approached your game?

BM: It was this year actually. Our big league pitching coach (Carl Willis) kinda came up to me and let me know I just needed to go out there and be myself. It kind of took me awhile to realize what he was talking about because everyone always wants to go and see how hard they threw or go watch video and see how nasty it was. I had to try to stay within myself and not try to do those things because I fell into that a little bit this year. The last three starts of the year, I just went out and threw, tried not to overthrow everything and it helped quite a bit.

SR: What’s the best way to summarize what being Brandon Maurer on the mound means?

BM: Being free of any stress. I get [stressed] like that a little bit.

SR: Does who you’re facing have anything to do with how easy it is to do that? To be yourself?

BM: I think it shouldn’t matter, but it does sometimes. It really shouldn’t.

SR: What was your most stressful situation last season?

BM: (laughs) Oh, there were a few.

SR: One more than the rest?

BM: Throwing against the Astros. I didn’t quite make it out of the first inning. I got hit around, ended up taking a ball in the leg. That was fairly stressful.

SR: When things don’t go the way you want, what does it feel like out there? Fans can feel sympathy or whatever, but most people will never know what it’s like to be standing out there.

BM: It feels like you’re all alone, because I mean, you kind of are. You’re standing out there, everyone’s watching you and you’re like “Well, this isn’t going well.”

SR: You went directly from high school to pro ball when you were drafted in 2008. What was the learning curve?

BM: It’s definitely learning how to do things on your own. In high school you have a lot of people holding your hand and walking you around. Learning to do stuff on your own was a big part.

SR: As far as your approach to the game, were there a million different things being thrown at you when you became a pro?

BM: Oh yeah. Everyone wants to put their two cents in to try and make that change that helps you out, which is cool but sometimes overwhelming. You’re trying to do new things, picking and choosing what works and what doesn’t.

SR: Looking back at the guy who came to the Mariners organization in 2008 to where you are now, is there much of a difference as a pitcher?

BM: I’d say no. I’m still the same guy. I throw a little harder, I’m a little bigger, but as a person, I’m the same.

SR: With your approach, your preparations, what is it you do now to get ready?

BM: I actually don’t like to look at film. If there’s anything [on film], it’s something small after an outing, maybe to see if I was mechanically okay. I don’t really like to look into scouting reports, so I don’t read too much into that. I just find out [who's a] righty and a lefty. I stay to myself on game day. I listen to my music.

SR: What are you listening to?

BM: Oh, a whole bunch of stuff. Pandora, I’d say leading up to the game, I’ve got Revolution Radio on, just chill stuff. As it gets closer I’ll ramp it up, maybe some Eminem or hard rock.

SR: Did you see that really awkward Eminem interview on ESPN?

BM: Oh yeah, I did. It was hilarious!

SR: It was too much, sorry. When did you start using that approach; keeping to yourself, listening to music?

BM: You know, I’ve strayed away from it, and it hasn’t benefited me at all. I’ve always kind of been in my own world.

SR: Is it difficult to try new things when you’re at this level, with some kind of fear that if it doesn’t work, it might ruin your game?

BM: Yeah, especially getting up into the bigs and all everyone cares about is wins. In the minor leagues you can kind of do that a little bit more. I got in trouble a little bit this year trying to tweak myself and the next thing you know I’ve got eight losses.

SR: What kind of hitter do you like to face?

BM: I like throwing to righties more than lefties. It doesn’t matter though, as long as I make pitches, it doesn’t matter who’s in there.

SR: You’re so easygoing about that. Some players are very specific with their approach to certain types of hitters or pitchers.

BM: I try to do too much when I do that. We’d go through what [guys] hit and what they don’t hit and then I’m sitting on the mound like, “I don’t remember. Maybe they hit this?” I’d throw it and it wasn’t right. I have to go out and just throw my own game.

SR: It’s a little like studying too much for a multiple choice test.

BM: Right?

SR: What’s the current challenge, or the thing you’re working on right now?

BM: I’m definitely trying to work on my change up. That’s the biggest thing. I’ve kind of got the mechanics all figured out. Well, not all figured out. I don’t think I ever will, but toned to a point where it’s comfortable.

SR: What are you doing that’s comfortable?

BM: Throwing it. (laughs)

SR: What’s the benefit to being in an offseason league where there are different people with different backgrounds surrounding you?

BM: These guys, the coaches, are at a pretty high level. It’s good to get the small things that aren’t going to change drastic mechanics or pitch movements or anything like that. Little things here and there that just seem to make more sense. Yeah, so mechanically, one small thing: I’ve been told to keep my foot on the rubber as long as possible when I’m throwing. It’s small, but it makes a huge difference.