Justin Erasmus – From Brisbane to Fenway South
Justin Erasmus is onto the next season, back at spring training with the Red Sox
By Alexis Brudnicki
FORT MYERS, Florida – Perched on a seat in the big-league bullpen at Fenway South during a Grapefruit League game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday afternoon, Justin Erasmus almost got the call to step onto the mound.If Alfredo Aceves had shown any signs of struggle during his time on the hill during the game, the Brisbane Bandits reliever might have been next in line. Unfortunately for Erasmus, Aceves threw two perfect frames.
Strapping on the red-and-blue Boston attire and being surrounded by major-league talent out in the ‘pen was enough for the 22-year-old during just the club’s second spring training home game of the year.
“Just putting on the Red Sox jersey is a little more prestigious than the Bandits uniform,” Erasmus said. “You want to work harder. You want to impress a lot more people.”
The South African right-hander impressed plenty of people during his time in Brisbane during the most recent season. Erasmus posted a 2.25 ERA through 16 innings over 12 appearances, with eight strikeouts. He recorded two saves in his final two outings, converting both of his opportunities.
Since being signed by Boston when he was just 17 years old the righty has played two seasons of rookie ball for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox and he spent the last North American season in the South Atlantic League, playing for the Greenville Drive in short-season A ball.
Erasmus has had success at every level, with a combined 1.68 ERA in 96 2/3 innings over the three seasons. He led both the league and short-season ball in saves in his second year with the organisation.
Obviously hoping to continue to move up the ladder down on the farm, the young hurler arrived in America’s Sunshine State almost a full month before being required to report for spring training. Between the Bandits and the Red Sox, Erasmus barely had two weeks from mound to mound, and is working hard every day at JetBlue Park to improve further.
“Since I came early I’ve thrown probably five or six bullpens, around 30 pitches,” he said. “I’ve thrown two live batting practices. I throw every day, work out every day or two, and I’m just pretty much getting into shape. I feel like I’m in good shape going into spring training.
“The official spring training, like the games and everything, start in like a week. And I feel like I’m ready to go, whereas some of the time some of the guys come a little later and they’ve got to take a little longer to get ready. They’re just not as in shape as they should be so I feel like it’s a huge advantage.”
And how have the live batting practices gone so far for the Bandits pitcher?
“It’s fun,” Erasmus said. “It’s not easy when you’re throwing against guys that are like Double-A and up and you’re telling them what’s coming and where it’s going to be, but at the same time that makes it extremely challenging because you have to hit your spot or they hit you. But it’s been going pretty well. I’ve improved every single time I’ve thrown a side and live [batting practice].”
Giving him even more of a head start for the upcoming season was the time that Erasmus spent in the ABL. Despite missing out on having an actual off-season, continuing to throw and compete at the level that the league provides is an extremely helpful tool in preparation.
“There are positives and negatives, but I see it as a positive,” Erasmus said of playing through the northern hemisphere’s winter months. “I hear what guys do in the off-season and they’re like, ‘Nothing’, or ‘Didn’t pitch, just started throwing’, and I have the upper edge because I pitch in the off-season. I throw innings, I learn how to throw better pitches, to have more confidence in them.”
During the Bandits season, Erasmus was working on honing his changeup and the cutter that he added to his pitching repertoire.
“I’m trying to get more velocity on my fastball and throw my changeup a bit more,” Erasmus said in November. “I’m actually working on my cutter right now which I started working on at the end of the year. It’s going well. I’ve had very good success so far and hopefully once I can start throwing it with some more velocity it will work out for me.”
Over the spring, the right-hander will continue to develop his cutter, a pitch that has been coming along nicely for him since last season, with help from his time in Brisbane.
“I learned how to throw the cutter and to have more confidence in throwing that,” he said. “I was also throwing my curveball and changeup. It always helps in the off-season pitching to hitters because instead of resting or not throwing or anything you’re actually pitching to batters and learning how to get other guys out with different things.”
Erasmus will continue his progress this season, hopefully with the Salem Red Sox, the Class-A Advanced affiliate of the big-league club. Always improving, the Brisbane Bandits will have plenty to look forward to when he comes back to Australia with another season overseas under his belt.