When the Cubs signed 22-year-old righty Max Bain in January, most of the focus was on his name. He sounded like a comic book character and, at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, sort of resembled one as well. But the man the Cubs signed was not the same one who finished the season in independent ball after going undrafted out of Northwood University. Over a four-month span, Bain reshaped his body, mind, and arsenal to earn a deal with a big-league organization.
After a senior season at Northwood that ended without much fanfare, Bain had a brief stint with the Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League in Michigan. He put up a 4.88 ERA with 23 walks in 24 innings, both troubling stats, but he also had 21 strikeouts and held opposing hitters to a .200 average with just three extra-base hits. Boasting the physical frame to throw even harder didn’t hurt.
Bain knew that he needed to become more of a real unicorn, someone who stood out from the crowd for more than just his size. But totally changing his body composition, along with how and what he threw, would require some help. The first step was getting his body ready to throw hard, which brought him to Prime Time Velocity in Waterford, Michigan.
That was a big focus of our conversation (more of which is available at my Cubs Central blog, here and here) when I caught up with Bain to discuss his college career and transformation from undrafted free agent to Cubs signee.
“I had a ton of help mapping out what I needed to do for the offseason as far as on-ramping correctly, into throwing weighted baseballs, going through a velocity phase, getting into pitch design,” Bain said. “There are two people, Dominic Downs and Alex Valasek, And he’s employed by Driveline out in Seattle. Taking a step back and kind of being able to look myself in the mirror, I had a ton of controllable Issues keeping me from where I needed to be.
“The first of which was the whole body weight/body composition deal. In being down 55 pounds, I can now get in better positions on the mound and kind of find further ranges of motion and flexibility and all that stuff. It’s a lot easier to do when you’re not carrying around 55 pounds.”
It’s one thing to be able to throw hard just because you’re big and strong, which had been Bain’s M.O. in the past. But learning how to really pitch, and to throw harder with greater control, is another matter entirely. Getting in better shape and really learning how to move well unlocked new levels of performance.
“I was not flexible at all in areas deemed to be correlated with throwing hard, the big ones being shoulders and hips,” Bain admitted. “Those are kind of the two most important places that I need to be flexible in order to throw hard. That knowledge is power. I worked out every day just to get more flexible so that I could get in better positions on the mound.
“I was not strong in certain places that I needed to throw hard. So, the best guy in the business for getting that is Eric Cressey and that’s who I went to for my lifts this off-season. I wasn’t working one-on-one with Cressey, but I had two trainers in Tim Geromini and Frank Minamino who were astronomical. They were always in contact with Cressey and constantly reevaluating and confirming progress with him. So I was in this gym for six hours alone, 6 to 7 days a week for a period of four months. I went from sitting 89 to 91-92, in that range, to that 94/96 [and] showing a 98 in indoor live at-bats.”
— Max Bain (@mbain_38) January 3, 2020
Dropping over 50 pounds and adding nearly 10 ticks to his fastball were the most obvious highlights of Bain 2.0, but they were hardly the only changes. In order to truly take the next step, there would need to be mental changes as well.
“I want to educate myself,” Bain said. “I want to be the smartest guy I can be and to know what I’m talking about. I want to know why things are happening and allow myself to formulate my own opinions and have a reasoning behind them. [So] I went and got the Driveline pitch certification.
“I was pretty familiar with the technology before, but it allowed me to be completely comfortable with the technology that we use in Rapsodo and TrackMan. It kind of allows me to not take anything that everybody says as a fact and to go out and do some self-discovery and learn what works for me and what doesn’t.”
6’6” 250 lbs.
22 years old (09/25/97)
Live AB numbers:
5 Hitters – 4K’s 1 BB
FB: 94-96 T 97.8
S/O @TheTrain34 for the footage today!
— Max Bain (@mbain_38) January 3, 2020
All the hard work and education paid off when the Cubs inked Bain to a minor-league deal, but that was really just another beginning. He headed to Mesa intent on continuing his improvement and showing that he could compete at a higher level.
“They have a really talented staff on hand,” Bain said. “There’s been a few articles about the pitch lab we have out there. To be able to get there and work with that staff, they’ve developed some existing pitches and given me some ideas about some new ones too. So to see the development there was awesome.”
Though Bain was working with only a fastball and curveball in the video from back in January, he’s got a bigger repertoire and is continuing to add pitches. I’d seen a changeup from him at one point and that could really be a strong offering for a guy who throws as hard as he does now. The Cubs seem to be focusing on offspeed stuff with a lot of their young pitchers as well, whether it’s Adbert Alzolay (story here) or Justin Steele (story).
“The changeup was in college and I never really figured it out actually until like last week,” Bain explained. “Right now the arsenal is looking like fastball, curveball, cutter, sinker, and changeup. I’ve worked my way into five pitches right now.”
Depending on how those pitches all come around in competition, Bain could move forward as a starter or reliever. He said the Cubs haven’t shared any specific plans with him yet in that regard, but that he felt he was able to show them right away that he belonged in the organization.
Unfortunately for Bain and every other minor league player, the season was shut down before it even began. That meant heading home, which for Bain means working at Prime Time Velocity as a coach/advisor. That not only gives him something to do with all of the unexpected free time, it allows him to continue his individual development while also guiding younger athletes.
“To have that program and be able to give back, to help the next generation too, that’s the most important part,” Bain said. “It’s not all about me, the world does not revolve around me. I want this game to grow and I want to have new people in it. Working at Prime Time Velocity is a great way to ensure that you’re at least contributing.
“When all is said and done, I have probably spent about 80 hours a week between my workouts as a player, working for Prime Time, and acting as an assistant coach of some kind during the offseason.”
Whenever baseball finally resumes, Bain will be ready to go with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He even got a tattoo with the date of the draft and the number of players taken that were not named Max Bain. He’s going to have his work cut out for him, considering how many of the players who went into that ink were pitchers the Cubs selected. Nothing is going to be given to him and he’s okay with that because he’s already shown he’s willing to earn it.
Odds are that Bain will start out in the bullpen to get his feet under him while waiting for an opportunity to open up in the rotation. At whatever point he’s able to get back out on the field, this is a guy worth watching.