There are great pitching prospects on the Lansing Lugnuts’ roster this season but none have been as nasty as right-handed sidearm pitcher Wil Browning.
An undrafted free agent signing by the Blue Jays, Browning has managed a tidy 2.30 ERA in 31 1/3 innings so far in 2013. Of the mere eight earned runs that he’s allowed, seven of them came in back-to-back appearances on May 28 and June 1, which goes to show just how dominant he has been throughout the rest of the season.
While Browning finds success by throwing from a sidearm slot, he also credits his success to his pitch repertoire.
“I use a fastball, slider, and changeup,” he said. “I don’t focus too much on my fastball speed because I’m a sinker, sidearm guy, but I’d say it’s around 88-89 mph. I try to get more movement out of my pitches than velocity.”
Entering Sunday, Browning ranked third on the Lugnuts in strikeouts with 49. That’s more than starting rotation members Alonzo Gonzalez and Taylor Cole, and the difference is Browning has done it in half the innings. Opposing hitters are hitting just .168 off of him, and the 24-year-old could easily be one level higher with Advanced-A Dunedin.
Regardless, he’s enjoying his time in Lansing.
“I like Lansing as a town. It’s a little bigger than I’m used to, but it’s really nice,” the 24-year-old said. “We have a great fan base; the people are friendly and they enjoy listening to my accent.”
Growing up in Sallis, Mississippi, Browning played football, basketball, and baseball at a young age. In addition, Browning enjoys being outdoors and especially likes the small-town feel of where he grew up.
“I love Mississippi. The town I grew up in has about 100 residents so you know everybody,” he said. “I love living in the country, it’s a slower pace of life. I hunt and fish everyday I’m home. I love the outdoors!”
Choosing to focus primarily on baseball in high school as it was his true passion, the move paid off for Browning as he was given the opportunity to play college baseball at Holmes Community College in nearby Goodman. It was at HCC where he learned a great deal on and off the baseball field from his coach Kenny Dupont.
“Kenny Dupont at Holmes Community College really prepared me for professional baseball,” Browning said. “He turned me around and made me the man I am today.”
After going 9-5 with a 4.06 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 82 innings of work at HCC, Browning was given the opportunity to play at the University of Louisiana-Monroe where he spent three seasons and managed a combined 4.58 ERA, 11 saves, and 111 strikeouts in 118 innings of work.
Browning’s senior year at ULM was particularly special, though, as he led his team in appearances (31), wins (eight), and saves (six). In 60 2/3 innings of work, he compiled a 3.41 ERA, 56 strikeouts and a .234 opponent batting average.
More importantly, it was with Louisiana-Monroe where he became a sidearm pitcher.
“I threw both over the top and sidearm in high school and one day at ULM I showed the coaches what I could do sidearm in the bullpen and I’ve been there ever since,” Browning said. “Louisiana-Monroe was a great experience, it’s like a home to me.”
With his college career having come to a close, Browning was fortunate enough to sign a free agent deal with the Blue Jays. After seeing three of his ULM teammates drafted by the Giants, Browning wasn’t going to take his chance with the Blue Jays for granted.
“I was really excited to sign with Toronto,” he said. “It was a great opportunity for me and I want to get the most out of it!”
Beginning his professional career shortly after signing, Browning spent time with all three of the Jays’ short-season affiliates — the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays, Bluefield Jays and Vancouver Canadians. He had a successful first pro season, finishing the year with a combined 1.14 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings. Opposing hitters managed just a .172 average off of him, and he even added four saves.
“I loved each city I was at,” Browning said of his 2012 season. “Bluefield is a nice small town and then I was moved up to Vancouver which was an eye-opening experience. I had never lived in a big city like Vancouver.”
It was during his time in Vancouver where Browning got a taste of playing for a winning team, as the Canadians would go on to win their second consecutive championship.
“Winning the Northwest League championship was awesome,” Browning recalled. “We had a great team up there and I was just glad to be a part of it. I got called up there at the end of the season and got to pitch in the playoffs as a key part of the bullpen.”
Now a key part of the Lugnuts’ bullpen, Browning has not only impressed fans and teammates with his pitching style, he’s earned the approval of his pitching coach Vince Horsman.
“Wil Browning has been phenomenal,” Horsman said. “He’s probably been our most consistent pitcher the entire season. He goes out there and trusts his stuff, he keeps the ball down and knows his game.
“He’s done a heck of a job.”
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