After just one month with the Triple-A team, sure enough, the former first-round pick was on the move, joining a new roster. It just wasn’t the roster Brownlie and the Cubs had hoped for.
The former college standout at Rutgers, whose signing bonus totaled $2.5 million in the spring of 2003, was none too surprised when he was one of the first pitchers returned to minor league camp back in Spring Training.
The surprise came a little over a month later, when Brownlie was being hit to the tune of a .429 average against that resulted in a plus-10 ERA in eight Iowa appearances -- a span of 11 2/3 innings.
The Cubs demoted Brownlie to Double-A in early May, where his struggles have only continued since his arrival at West Tenn. In 54 1/3 innings, primarily from relief, he is 2-8 with a 5.96 ERA and .344 average against.
And as recently as last week, Brownlie found himself on the move again -- back to Class A Daytona, where he began his professional career three years ago in the Florida State League. He no sooner got halfway to Florida when he was told by Cubs minor league officials to turn his car around.
“I packed up and was going to make a couple of starts and then come right back up,” Brownlie said. “About three hours into the drive, they called and told me to head back. There had been a few roster moves [at West Tenn] at the time, and I guess it had something to do with that.”
Brownlie began his pro career at Daytona and moved up to AA the following year. He won nine games with the Diamond Jaxx in ’04, when he struck out 114 batters in 147-plus innings and posted a 3.36 ERA in 26 starts.
A year ago with Iowa, Brownlie struggled early on from the starting rotation, but was moved to the bullpen midway through the season after coming off the disabled list in mid-June with an elbow-related injury. He proceeded to pitch well from relief with a 1.50 ERA in 24 innings before closing out the year with six starts, in which his ERA hovered above five points in that span.
Brownlie pitches at Principal Park in Des Moines against the Albuquerque Isotopes (April 6, 2006).
The mystery begs the question: what’s eating Bobby Brownlie?
“I just haven’t been locating the ball,” Brownlie answered. “In the past, my command has always been there. This year for some reason, I’ve been leaving the ball up and I wasn’t throwing my breaking pitches.”
And as one might guess, one of the more frustrating things Brownlie has dealt with he says has been the uncertainty of knowing his role for the second straight year. He began this year in the Iowa bullpen, but was making a frequent number of starts at West Tenn by June. He has since gone back to the bullpen, which could always change again.
“It’s frustrating because you get into a rhythm of doing one thing, and the next thing you know, you’re told that you’re going to do something else,” Brownlie said. “I’m not the kind of guy that goes out there and complains. I take the ball when they give it to me and really enjoy competing, but it does make it hard to get into a routine.”
With just over a month left in the minor league season, neither Brownlie nor the Cubs are ready to call it quits. After giving up eight runs in three innings during his last start on July 4 against Chattanooga, he has allowed one earned run over his last six relief appearances, a span of 9 2/3 innings.
“He simply needs to keep pitching,” Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita said of Brownlie. “Guys who stay healthy long enough figure things out. Bobby has a big heart and a great work ethic. He will figure things out.”
Brownlie himself describes his struggles as a learning curve.
“That’s all it is. You never want to get hit around just to say that you’ve been through something like this,” he said. “But you try to learn from it and get better each day. I’m working on throwing the ball down in the zone and hitting my spots. That’s always been the kind of pitcher I was. I never left too many balls up or over the plate. These hitters are good and they’re doing what they should do with pitches like that.
“It’s certainly disappointing,” Brownlie said of his season. “I went to camp and threw the ball well. You sometimes create all these expectations in the pre-season and things don’t always go according to plan. Then, it starts snowballing a little and keeps rolling downhill. It’s one of those things you have to go through and stay mentally strong.”