Brandon Birdsell spent his freshman season of college baseball at Texas A&M in 2019. He transferred after one season and knew San Jacinto College in Texas was the best fit for his development.
Birdsell, a right-handed pitcher, was drawn to San Jacinto pitching coach Woody Williams, who pitched 15 years in the major leagues. He believed Williams would help him grow in all aspects of pitching due to his history in the game.
Williams assisted Birdsell with his mechanics, pitches and mentality on the mound, while the two also connected off the field due to their mutual interest in spiritual faith, Birdsell said.
Under the guidance of Williams, Birdsell has enhanced his abilities on the mound and developed into a top prospect for June’s MLB draft.
“Woody Williams has made the biggest impact on my career so far,” Birdsell said. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence going into San Jac. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect myself to go in there and be some sort of superstar or anything.
“I was just expecting some sort of development. I was kind of scared because I didn’t have much faith in myself. Woody helped me out throughout the process and stuck with me.”
Out of high school, the Houston Astros drafted Birdsell in the 39th round of the 2018 draft. Birdsell had a strong commitment to Texas A&M at the time and was less than two years removed from undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2016. Perfect Game ranked Birdsell as the second-best player in the 2018 recruiting class before the elbow surgery.
Now two years later, Birdsell’s development and impressive results this spring have positioned him to possibly be the first junior college pitcher selected in this year’s draft. Professional scouts project Birdsell as a top-five-round pick who could potentially be a second-round selection.
“I’m very grateful for people texting and calling me,” Birdsell said. “There is not too much to complain about. I have gotten a lot more calls, text and interest than I did in high school.”
Birdsell is one of three San Jacinto pitchers who could hear their names called in the first five rounds of this year’s draft. San Jacinto left-handed pitchers Luke Little and Mitchell Parker also are highly-regarded draft prospects.
“It was special,” Birdsell said. “Anytime we were practicing and playing, we didn’t look it at that way. But then these articles start to come out and you sit back and think, ‘Wow, this is crazy. We have three guys that could go potentially in the top five rounds.’ It was just like teams couldn’t face a break when they faced us. Our entire staff was really good.”
Birdsell pitched sparingly as a freshman at Texas A&M last year, making just nine appearances and posting a 6.43 ERA in seven innings. After the season, Birdsell sought a better opportunity that would allow him to pitch regularly and develop as a pitcher.
This spring, Birdsell posted encouraging results as a starting pitcher until San Jacinto’s season ended prematurely March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In six starts, he recorded a 2.48 ERA with 45 strikeouts and nine walks allowed in 29 innings.
“It was going well,” Birdsell said. “It started rough, but I was able to develop and figure out what worked for me. Towards the end, I was starting to hit my stride right before the cancelation happened.”
Birdsell is a 6-foot-2, 210-pound right-hander who throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, spike curveball, slider and changeup from a low-effort delivery. His four-seam fastball is his best offering and peaked at 97 mph this spring.
His curveball and slider also are solid offerings. His slider resembles a hard cutter, sitting 88 to 90 mph and consistently generates swings and misses.
In Birdsell’s final two starts of the spring, he started to throw his two-seamer. Birdsell worked with Williams on different grips before finding his current two-seam grip that allowed him to gain feel and confidence in the offering.
“I never threw the two-seamer before the last two games and it was working well,” Birdsell said. “That was a fun pitch to use because I wasn’t able to do it before.”
Birdsell has displayed potential with his changeup, as it features some fade, but he doesn’t consistently throw the pitch. He hopes to gain a better feel and more confidence in his changeup in anticipation for either pro ball in the summer or Texas Tech in the fall.
“I want to develop a changeup, and I just want to keep the same mentality I had towards the end of the season and go into next year the same way I ended this year,” Birdsell said. “I’m just going to keep my routine the same and work on fine-tuning all my pitches and working on my command.”
With the season ending prematurely, it limited the opportunities Birdwell had to showcase his skills on the mound for pro scouts. He’s pitched just 36 innings between his first two college seasons and is eligible for the draft again next year if he doesn’t turn pro this summer.
Birdsell is thankful that he likely will have a chance to decide between pro ball and Texas Tech and is just trusting in God throughout the process.
“I give all the glory to God because without him it wouldn’t be possible to even play,” Birdsell said.
Read more stories on top 2020 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.