Los Angeles Times

Pirates pack one-two punch with Brennan and Yuhl

Their eye-popping stats are close to identical, but their attributes and stories are as dissimilar as a bloop and a blast.

Together, they comprise one of the two best one-two starting pitching combinations in California. But when taken individually, they represent both confirmation of and a challenge to the general baseball consensus regarding the projection of potential to performance at the sport's highest level.

Orange Coast College freshman Brandon Brennan is the power-pitching prototype, standing 6-foot-4, 220 pounds with a fastball clocked as high as 95 mph. He was drafted in the 40th round by the Colorado Rockies out of high school, before heading to the University of Oregon.

OCC sophomore Keegan Yuhl, listed at 6-0, 220 pounds, both of which might fudge somewhat in his favor, appears more in need of a personal trainer than an agent. His fastball ranges from 88 to 92 mph and, despite a 29-4 record in three varsity seasons at Poway High in San Diego County, he was largely ignored by scouts before heading to San Diego State.

Going into the California Community College Athletic Assn. Baseball Championship, a four-team, double-elimination tournament Friday through Sunday at Bakersfield College, Brennan and Yuhl are both 11-1.

Brennan, who is expected to start the Pirates' second game on Saturday, has a 1.12 earned-run average in 98 1/3 innings, spanning 13 starts. He has allowed only 68 hits while striking out 65 and walking 22.

Yuhl, expected to start the opener Friday at noon against Sierra (25-15-1), has a 1.88 ERA in 91 innings, spanning 12 starts. The Orange Empire Conference Pitcher of the Year has two saves with 74 strikeouts and 21 walks. He has allowed 92 hits.

"They've been great all year," said OCC Coach John Altobelli, whose 36-5-1 squad won the school's first outright conference title since 1987, earned the No. 1 ranking in one national poll, and is the top seed for the state tournament. "Most teams hope to have one guy like this on their staff. But to have two of them, obviously, makes for a special year. And that's kind of what is going on now."

Brennan has committed to play at the University of Houston next year. But, projected by some to be drafted in the first five rounds in June, he is anxious to begin a professional career.

A former standout at Capistrano Valley High, he said his craft was not then honed well enough to produce success at the Division I level.

"In high school, you could kind of get by just on talent," Brennan said. "But when you get up to Division I, like I was at Oregon, you've got to develop skill. I had a lot of raw talent, but I needed to develop that into skill. That's what I've been doing ever since. I was always a kid in high school who could throw 94 or 95 mph, but I didn't necessarily know where it was going. Here, I can take that 94 and I'm able to pound it on one side of the plate or the other and consistently do it throughout a game."

Brennan also said he has grasped the psychology of becoming dominant on the mound.

"You always want to be the most confident person on the field, at all times," he said. "And, the fact is, I'm much more mentally tough right now. I'm able to handle critical situations better, like having guys on base, and guys in scoring position with no outs. It's body language, showing that in a critical situation, you're still calm."

Brennan's demeanor on the mound has impressed some as much as his repertoire.

"He knows what he wants to do," said OCC sophomore outfielder Chris Carlson, the OEC Player of the Year. "He believes he is the best pitcher on the mound and nobody is going to beat him. He just has that presence … that I'm going to beat you [mentality]."

Altobelli said Brennan could be drafted as high as the third round.

"I think his stock has gone up," Altobelli said.

Yuhl, who was 4-4 with a 3.01 ERA in 14 starts last season at San Diego City College, said his fitness and maturity created fodder for disbelieving scouts, who are conditioned to covet taller flame throwers, even though they may still lack a working knowledge of the craft of compiling outs, innings and victories.

"I've always been the underdog kind of guy," said Yuhl, who learned about OCC from fellow San Diego native Matt Moynihan, who was the OEC Player of the Year for the Pirates' in 2011, before heading to the University of Texas. "I know I have to prove myself wherever I am. Every year is starting over for me. There's disrespect in the baseball world. That's just the way it is and you learn to accept it."

But the lingering effects of the naysayers have become a prime motivating factor, Yuhl said.

"I play with a chip on my shoulder," said Yuhl, who has committed to play next season at New Mexico State. "When I came here, I knew scouts in California had seen me pitch for so long, I'm not really anything special [in their view]. This year my whole mind-set was proving that I'm worthy. I've never been happier playing baseball than here, this year. I love my teammates and we have a great team. It's not even just the winning, it's the camaraderie. Even practice is fun with this team."

Yuhl, who Altobelli regularly praises as a bulldog competitor, said he lost 30 pounds since the 2011 season. He also has worked hard to refine his curveball and mix in a changeup he said he rarely threw before this season.

"I'm no track star, but I run better and I field my position," said Yuhl, who cites Bartolo Colon as the major league pitcher he is most often compared to in terms of physique. "I've pretty much had a fastball my whole life and I put it where I want. And if I miss, I don't miss by much. I had a really good changeup since high school, but I've never really had to use it. This year, my velocity is up, I actually have a breaking pitch that is decent, and I'm throwing my change more than ever, especially in the last three weeks. I'm better this year than I've ever been."

Said Carlson: "[Yuhl] is just a competitor and he throws strikes. That's how you get people out and he has done that."

Altobelli believes any professional team would do themselves a favor by drafting Yuhl.

"I would [draft him]," Altobelli said. "Sometimes, I don't quite understand what [pro teams] look at. He is a guy who has gone through adversity and he just keeps battling and proving people wrong. Just his makeup and the way he gets after it … If David Wells [a portly former major league pitcher] can do it, I'm sure guys like Keegan can do it. Keegan has a huge heart and [guts] and he proves it every time he goes out there. And his arm doesn't get tired."

Both Yuhl and Brennan, now the best of friends, agree they make one another better.

"We love to talk baseball," Brennan said. "We'll sit around on the couch, watch games on TV and pick apart different teams and situations. We both live and breathe talking about baseball."

Added Yuhl: "He has helped me. We definitely complement each other. We are opposites in some ways, but so similar as competitors. I think that's why we're so close. I think the best thing between us is that we trust each other. He trusts my opinion and I trust his."

The top two starters from Rio Hondo, which along with Cosumnes River round out the state tournament field, are both 12-0. Sophomore Andrew Morales has a 1.89 ERA and freshman A.J. Gonzalez has a 1.14 ERA.

But both Brennan and Yuhl believe they will prove themselves superior.

"There's no better one-two punch in the state of California and all of JC ball than me and Keegan," Brennan said. "I would put my money on me and Keegan against any other team in the entire country. I say, bring on Rio [Hondo]. I want Rio."

Yuhl said he is envious of Brennan, who figures to get the first start against Rio Hondo.

"I wanted that game," said Yuhl, who starts first because he is more likely to come back sooner to pitch again than Brennan. "I was kidding with Brandon that it's not fair that he gets that game, because I wanted it. We just want to play them to get that bragging right in Southern California."


Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5



Teams: Orange Coast (36-5-1); Consumnes River (25-16); Rio Hondo (38-3), Sierra (25-15-1).

Where: Bakersfield College

Info: OCC takes on Sierra Friday at noon. Webcast viewing information can be found at www.cccaasports.org.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times