Scottsdale, Ariz. -- It's hard to talk to Colorado Rockies minor league reliever Hunter Brothers and not immediately ask about his older sibling, big leaguer Rex Brothers. After all, Rex spent the majority of his career in Denver, and experienced very high highs, and then very low lows. It doesn't help that Hunter is the spitting image of his older brother, complete with similar mannerisms (except for that whole not being left-handed thing).
So when I caught up with Hunter at spring training, I kicked off our interview asking about Rex—and while I apologized for it, feeling guilty that Hunter's career is immediately connected with that of his brother, the young reliever seemed to take it in stride.
"When you spend as much time as Rex and I do together, we are pretty much together every day in the offseason, and I’m sure if we could in the season we would be too," Hunter admitted. "But I try to carve my own identity, and get what I can for myself. I’m not living off what he’s done by any means. Rex has a lot of knowledge, but I had to go through some things on my own to get that extra step. He helped me out a lot with mental stuff, on and off the field."
Hunter struggled in 2014 after the Rockies drafted him in the 30th round out of Lipscomb University in Tennessee; at rookie level Grand Junction, he appeared in 17 games and logged a 5.59 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. But a repeat at the level in 2015 saw a resurgence in Hunter's career, as he twirled 36 innings in the Pioneer League over 25 games, recording three wins and six saves and logging just a 3.75 ERA and a .226 opponents' batting average.
Just as family familiarity has helped him in the Rockies' organization along the way, seeing Rex's recent struggles have impacted Hunter, too. As you'd expect, the younger brother takes it personally wanting to see his older brother succeed, and it's affected both men's perspectives on the game.
"One thing Rex has always been concrete in is his faith," Hunter said. "He’s went through some things these last couple years, but it’s never fazed him as much as it would somebody who depends so much on baseball. Rex has shown me through faith that you can have a good life even without baseball, and that’s kind of helped me along the way."
"If I’m struggling one day, I know that it’s going to be all right, in the midst of it all," he added. "But Rex, he is really concrete in his faith day in and day out, and is not wavering at all."
Having never yet played in a full-season league, Hunter's words on putting baseball into perspective greatly interested me; after all, for a man whose identity is so carved in the game itself—and following his brother's footsteps—I found his words an interesting and wise outlook on the sport and his life outside of it.
"For the most part, baseball is who we are, but there’s a lot of off time we have, too," Hunter noted. "And even on the field working with a lot of guys, you see a lot of people that have the similarities of having faith in God and everything above. For me, that helps me stay consistent off the field. I feel like the more consistent I can be off the field, with my faith, the more consistent I can be on the field."
On the field, Hunter is content to let that consistency do the talking this summer. We'll know the organization's minor league assignments soon enough, but Brothers ought to find himself in the Low-A Asheville Tourists' bullpen in 2016, starting the year in the South Atlantic League, relatively close to his offseason home in Tennessee, where he spent all winter throwing and training with Rex. For one, Hunter seemed mentally prepared to take on the next challenge of professional baseball, refusing to get too far ahead of himself this spring.
"I've learned to really just keep my head to the grind and not look up until it’s all over," Hunter admitted. "I'm just trying to stay humble and hungry the whole way through, and put together a good outing every night. That was one of my main goals, just to pick up where I left off, and I feel like I’ve been doing that."
And while Rex is a wonderful asset in Hunter's corner for advice and conversation, the minor leaguer has worked hard to learn lessons from his own experiences, too. For one, he'll take a better understanding of pitching into the season after sometimes learning the hard way what happens at altitude in a place like Grand Junction.
"There were a lot of good hitters," Brothers admitted of his time in the Pioneer League. "You have to prepare every day, and go with your own strengths, instead of pitching to their weaknesses. That’s one thing that kind of plays to your confidence level, going out and doing your thing and not trying to pitch to their weakness. What you do best is what’s going to get you there, and it’s what has gotten you this far."
"I definitely had to learn to pitch off my fastball," he added, revealing some of his strategy, "and my slider, when I get ahead, I can throw that. I’ve developed it hopefully enough now where I can mix it in to a 1-0 count, something where I’m behind in the count, and throw it for a strike. You have to throw something that bends a little bit at this level, and in levels to come."
With more good work this summer in Asheville, he ought to soon find out first hand what's expected in levels to come, rather than just hearing about it from an older brother who's been there, done that. And as he rises through the system, Hunter Brothers will continue to carve his own identity, more than being just the kid brother of a Major Leaguer.