After not pitching for about a year and a half due to injuries (Tommy John surgery and a lat injury), right-hander Brooks Pounders has put himself back on the map with the KC Royals.
It started on June 29th, when he returned to action in the AZL (four games). Then it was on to rookie level Idaho Falls (one start), High-A Wilmington (two starts where I saw his second start), and finally Double-A NW Arkansas (eight regular season starts).
In those eight starts with the Naturals, opponents hit .223 against him and hit just three home runs, he struck out 32, and walked 19. He had a 2.19 ERA. In the Texas League Division Series, Pounders earned the victory in the clincher, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks over 5.1 innings.
However, Pounders’ season was not finished.
He was off to the Arizona Fall League, where he flat out dominated in three starts, earning Pitcher of the Week honors following his second start (4IP, 2H, 0R, 0BB, 7K). Overall in the AFL, Pounders did not allow a run or walk a batter in 12 innings. He allowed just five hits while striking out 14 for Surprise.
His time in the AFL was shortened because he was selected to represent the USA in the Premier 12 Tournament, in which the USA brought home the silver. When did he find out about the selection?
“I found out during fall league. Ronnie Richardson [Director of Minor League Operations] and JJ Piccolo [Vice President/GM of Player Personnel] called me and gave me the option to stay in the fall league or go play for Team USA.”
Because of the success he was having in the AFL and how close his teammates with Surprise had gotten, it was a hard decision to make. “It was a tough decision at first to leave a great team because everyone was so close in a matter of days and I had been throwing the ball really well. But I’m totally happy I went. It was an awesome experience getting to represent this great nation.”
Pounders started twice in exhibition games, once against Canada in Arizona (2IP, 3H, R, 0BB, K) and once against host Chinese Taipei (2IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 2K).
In the round-robin format, Pounders pitched against Mexico (Game 3 for Team USA) and walked one and struck out one over 1.2 scoreless innings.
He was back on the mound in the quarterfinals against the Netherlands, throwing the final four innings. He allowed a hit and a walk in his scoreless outing. He struck out three.
Pounders’ lone hiccup came in the gold medal game against Korea, when he allowed five runs on four hits, two walks, and a hit batter over 1.2 innings. He did strike out three.
The 2015 season ended with Pounders moving his way up the Royals ladder, with plenty of opportunities in front of him in the organization heading into the 2016 season. Any extra motivation?
“Absolutely. The workouts started the day after I got home. I’m really looking forward to next year. Like I said, I feel like I can pitch with the best on any given day and I’m ready to prove that. It’s about taking advantage of the opportunities you’re given. So every time I take that mound, it’s a new opportunity and another chance to show what I can do.”
After returning home from Tokyo, Pounders was kind enough to answer some questions about his experiences with Team USA and in the AFL.
- Were you surprised you were picked to pitch for Team USA?
“I honestly was a little shocked at first, but ultimately it was a great honor to be selected.”
- Being a late addition, was it a little easier having Royals teammates Parker Morin and Brett Eibner already there?
“Yeah, I knew quite a few guys on the team just from playing in the minor leagues. But definitely when I got the call, those two were the first I contacted just to feel out the situation.”
- What was it like to wear USA across your chest?
“It was a great feeling and a tremendous honor. The team and staff became extremely close very quick and playing for USA, everyone had one common goal in mind: to win gold right off the bat. We came up just a little bit short, but wearing the red, white, and blue is an awesome memory that I’ll always cherish.”
- What was it like to play in Taiwan and then Tokyo?
“It was a great experience, playing in front of fans that don’t get to see you play every day. They have a great understanding for baseball and know the game well. The Tokyo Dome was awesome playing in front of that many people. Hands down the loudest I’ve ever pitched in.”
- What was the competition like?
“It was great competition, played against a lot of ex big leaguers and current minor league guys from the other teams. But Japan got to bring all their studs and so did Korea, so I would say those were two of the tougher teams we had to play.”
- Did you get to be a tourist at all?
“Yeah, we had one day off in Taiwan, so a few of us went to the top of the Taipei 101 building and did the vantage point thing. Then went to the night markets and just walked around.”
- Did you have any nerves when you pitched in the game against Mexico?
“No, if I had nerves, I would say they came in the exhibition game against Chinese Taipei. They had the stadium packed out. It was the good kind of nerves though. The nervous energy.”
- What was the medal ceremony like?
“It was good. I mean, obviously everyone was a little upset because we wanted to stand up receiving the gold for our country. But in the grand scheme of things, looking back, we had a great run out there and nothing but great memories.”
- Any special place yet for the silver medal?
“I have a big glass type case with a lot of my stuff from growing up and pro ball in. It will have a nice spot right in there along with all the other things.”
- You were dominating the AFL before joining Team USA. Were you surprised about that selection?
“It was a tremendous honor as well to represent the Royals in the AFL. I’ve always known I can compete and pitch with the best. I’m glad I got the opportunity to show that and I can’t thank the Royals enough for giving me that opportunity.”
- Were you working on anything in the AFL or just trying to get innings?
“I was there mostly to get innings in, but you’re always working on things every time you take the mound. I changed some stuff up in my windup to kind of speed me up and it’s really helped.”
Despite being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft (which was held on Thursday morning), Pounders was not selected. Not a big deal for him. He was hoping that his 2015 performance put himself on the map for the Royals.
“Hopefully it [2015 performance] has put me on the map with the Royals. I’m thankful for all of the opportunities this organization has given me and I want nothing more than to pitch in front of the greatest fans in baseball at the K, as far as I’m concerned, for the greatest organization in baseball. I take the mound every time trying to open the eyes of the Kansas City Royals whether that’s in the minor leagues for them or this past trip overseas playing for my country.”
Royals pitchers and catchers officially report to Surprise on February 18th and Pounders is hoping to receive a big league invite and be one of those reporting on the 18th.