Wellman up in bigs, up about prospects
Coach likes what he's seen from Double-A winning farmhands
ATLANTA -- As he prepared for his first day in the Majors, coach Phillip Wellman proudly thought about the Southern League championship his Double-A Mississippi squad had just won, and wondered how long it would take for somebody to ask him about the animated episode that made him a YouTube celebrity last year.
As it turned out, Jair Jurrjens mentioned the comical tantrum before reporters had the opportunity to ask.
"I want you to make it a nice, easy toss," Jurrjens said while mimicking the grenade-like toss that Wellman made with a rosin bag during the heated tirade that would have made both Billy Martin and Lou Piniella proud.
While many around the baseball world know Wellman because of this episode, the Braves know him as one of the most-respected managers in their Minor League organization. After his Mississippi team struggled through a forgettable first half this season, they flourished in the second half and ended up winning the Southern League championship with a 10-inning win over Carolina on Saturday night.
"We probably weren't the best team on paper," Wellman said. "But you've got to give the guys credit, they really came together as a team."
While serving as an extra coach on Bobby Cox's staff during the season's final two weeks, Wellman will get his first taste of life at the big league level and will have the opportunity to reunite with many of his former players, who obviously hold him in high regard.
As he was making his way to the field for Tuesday's batting practice at Turner Field, All-Star catcher Brian McCann gave Wellman a high five and said, "You're the best." A few minutes later, Martin Prado passed by and playfully said, "Where's my [championship] ring?"
While Prado was just one of the many big leaguers who did some rehab work with Mississippi this year, Wellman spent the past six months helping to nurture the careers of many players who could be in Atlanta in the very near future.
Outfielder Jordan Schafer and Thomas Hanson headline the list of prospects who spent most of this season with Mississippi. But based on what he saw this year, Wellman believes Kris Medlen, Deunte Heath, Stephen Marek, Luis Valdez and Southern League pitcher of the Year Todd Redmond all could be part of the Atlanta pitching staff within the next couple of seasons.
Had Schafer not been handed a 50-game suspension at the beginning of the year, Wellman believes the 22-year-old center fielder would have enjoyed a 100-RBI season. As for Hanson and Medlen, they were the dominant pieces of a starting rotation that was led by Redmond's 13 wins.
"All he does is win," Wellman said of Redmond, who was acquired from the Pirates in exchange for Tyler Yates. "[Redmond] pounds the strike zone and has no fear."
While going 13-7 with a 4.19 ERA in 27 appearancs (25 starts) with Mississippi and Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach this year, Heath opened some more eyes in the Braves organization. But while impressing, the 23-year-old right-hander also issued 73 walks to his 99 strikeouts in 150 1/3 innings.
"He probably has the best arm [on the team]," Wellman said. "But he's the least polished. He just needs some time."
As for Marek, who was acquired with Casey Kotchman in the July 29 trade that sent Mark Teixeira to the Angels, he was 1-2 with a 3.21 ERA in 10 appearances for Mississippi. In 60 2/3 innings this year, the 25-year-old right-handed reliever recorded 68 strikeouts and issued 27 walks.
"You all will see him soon [in the Majors]," Wellman said. "He's pretty good."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.