Both Sides of the Ball Provide Options for Hillcats’ Trenton Brooks

Los Angeles Angels rookie Shohei Ohtani made quite a splash to open this season taking his turn in the rotation every fifth day, and serving as the Halos designated hitter on his off days. Having maintained a similar routine during his junior year in college, the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats Trenton Brooks is suitably impressed by Ohtani’s performance.

“He throws 100 miles per hour, so I was pretty certain he’d make it in the big leagues as a pitcher,” said Brooks. “So far he’s surprised me with his hitting. He’s a plus on both sides of the ball.”

At the University of Nevada-Reno, Brooks alternated between starting and the bullpen during his freshman and sophomore seasons, having a greater impact with his bat over his arm. His success as a pitcher and hitter made Brooks a 2015 finalist for the John Olerud award. The award honors the University of Washington product who excelled on the mound and at the plate. Brooks would lose out to eventual three-time winner Brendan McKay in the first of his three times as winner. Tampa Bay selected McKay with the first pick in the 2017 draft.

“It was a lot harder than I think people give credit for,” says Brooks about the challenges of pitching and hitting. “I really enjoyed it because it was a separator, it helped me really develop an approach, being on both sides of the ball.”

In 2015, he was the Mountain West Player of the Year for the Wolf Pack, and was the first to earn the award with the name Tony Gwynn attached to it.

“I grew up in San Diego, so Tony Gwynn is a big figure there,” Brooks shared. “I had idolized him and been recruited by San Diego State and I got to sit down and talk with him.”

The award was renamed for Gwynn after his untimely passing. Brooks considers it a big honor to be the first player to win the award since the name change. He hopes to talk with Indians outfielder Greg Allen about Gwynn someday, since Allen played under Gwynn during his last year as head coach at San Diego State.

Brooks has not met Allen personally but said, “I’ve pitched against him [in college]. I actually hit him. I wasn’t pitching well and had run the count to 3-0.”

While playing summer ball for the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod League, Brooks was teammates with another two-way player in college, Will Craig. Both were runners up to McKay for the 2015 Olerud award.

“The Cape Cod League was really good competition,” said Brooks about his 39 game summer tour of the Northeast. “I got to play with a lot of good dudes.”

Craig would go on to be selected by Pittsburgh with their first selection in 2016.

Selected in the 17th round of 2016, the 6’0” left-handed Brooks is now in his third season as a Cleveland Indians farmhand. Concentrating exclusively on hitting, he spent his first season with the Rookie-level Arizona League team, appearing in 35 games from June through August, and generating a .222 batting average and ten RBI.

When the 2017 season dawned, Brooks remained behind in Arizona, only getting a brief assignment to Lynchburg for three games before a transfer to the Low-A Lake County Captains.

“It was a week and a half before I had an at-bat,” said Brooks about his brief time with the 2017 Hillcats team. “The team environment was awesome.”

His first game, he faced hard throwing Brewers left-handed prospect Kodi Medeiros. In seven at-bats with the Hillcats, he did not get on base.

The 2017 Hillcats would go on to a share of the Carolina League title, and Brooks was happy to be a part of that team, even if it was just a brief stint. Down with the Lake County Captains, he played in 29 games before succumbing to injury and going on the disabled list for almost three months.

This season, he was excited to open the year on the Hillcats roster and get a chance to show the organization what he can do as a professional.

“College is different in terms of your time,” says Brooks, “because you’ve got study hall, you’ve got class. I think in terms of playing every day certain aspects might be a tad easier, but the adjustment can be hard.”

Unfortunately for him, his most recent adjustment is another trip to the disabled list only nine games into the season with an oblique injury. The oblique muscles, a series that run diagonally along both sides of the rib cage, can be notoriously difficult to recover from when injured. These core muscles are active in rotational motion, so any action that results in the turning of the torso, from tying shoes, to getting into a car, can aggravate the injury.

The 2018 season had been one where Brooks intended to stay healthy. His three months on the shelf in 2017 from a combination of a torn flexor muscle in his elbow, and a strain of his anterior cruciate ligament, were not something he wanted to repeat.

“This year, stay healthy and stay on my prep work, my arm care stuff to stay on the field for six months,” said Brooks of his plans for 2018.

He was activated by the Hillcats on Saturday, May 5, when Justin Garza was placed on the disabled list. Now Brooks can work around this short detour in his plans, and make every effort not to reinjure his oblique. Instead, he can focus on his hitting and fielding.

Eventually, if the hitting side of the game doesn’t work out, he is more than willing to shift to the mound and see if he can make it as a pitcher.

“That’s my back-up plan. I really enjoyed pitching. I got to pitch last year when we ran out of pitchers and I got a save. That was cool,” said Brooks with obvious enthusiasm.

He has the background to build a successful career in baseball. Whether it will be as a hitter or a pitcher remains to be seen, but Trenton Brooks has options. Ever since his debut in T-ball at age four, he continues to play with energy and enthusiasm. With a little luck on the health side of the ledger, he may just get the chance to show what he can do at bat and on the mound.

Photo: Lee Luther Jr./The News & Advance

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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  1. Met this kid on a plane trip back to Cleveland. Awesome youngster, very easy to root for. Hope he can get it done on either side!

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