02/26/12 3:02 PM EST
For Beachy, the story has only just begun
Braves righty hopes rapid ascent to Majors only the beginning
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
It has steadily become even more amazing in the two years that have followed.
"It is my story and a part of who I am, but it doesn't really matter much in this clubhouse or on that field," Beachy said. "Eight other guys on the field with you have their own stories. We're all competing together on the same field. It doesn't matter if you are the number one overall pick or you were unpicked. It doesn't matter when you're out there. I'd like to continue mine for a long time, with my back story being on the back burner."
As Beachy prepares for his second full Major League season, it is incredible to think the average Braves fan did not really know who he was two years ago. Now some of these same fans view him as a stabilizing component of an Atlanta starting rotation that is surrounded by uncertainty as Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens attempt to rebound from injuries.
With Tim Hudson set to miss at least the season's first month while recovering from back surgery, Beachy might arguably stand as the most dependable starting pitcher the Braves have right now. Not bad for somebody who estimates he might have thrown six innings for Northwestern High School in Kokomo, Ind.
"It doesn't surprise me with Beach," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "He's a smart guy, a very athletic guy. He's just continuing to get better. I faced him [Saturday] and he threw great."
Beachy's story remains compelling even after it has been told countless times over the past couple years. After spending three years as a third baseman/part-time closer at Indiana Wesleyan University, he spent the summer of 2008 pitching in a collegiate league in Virginia. He was discovered there by veteran scout Gene Kerns, who convinced the Braves to provide a $20,000 signing bonus.
That $20,000 investment has already paid dividends that were never envisioned. Beachy went 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 25 starts for the Braves last year. His 169 strikeouts were the most recorded by a Braves rookie pitcher dating back to 1900.
"That's pretty cool," Beachy said. "It is. But at the same time, it's strikeouts. We don't win and lose games based on strikeouts. So that kind of keeps it in perspective for me. It's a fun thing. But [strikeouts are] not at the top of the list of priorities for me."
Beachy's strikeout total might actually drop a little this year as he attempts to be more efficient than he was last year, when he worked at least seven innings in just two of his 25 starts. The young hurler was unable to complete at least six innings in nine of his 25 starts.
"For me, it's usually throwing too many pitches, giving guys too many opportunities," Beachy said. "It's something I'm definitely conscious of and looking to improve."
As impressive as Beachy was last year, he undoubtedly has plenty of room to improve and learn the art of pitching. The 25 starts he made last year were three more than he made during his entire Minor League career.
Beachy made eight starts for Class A-Advanced Myrtle Beach in 2009. But he did not get his big break until midway through the 2010 season, when the Braves opted to put him in Double-A Mississippi's rotation. After six starts, he was promoted to the Triple-A level, where he posted a 2.17 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts).
Beachy's career path changed significantly after he transitioned to a starting role in July 2010. He went from being relatively unknown to being in Atlanta's rotation for the two most important weeks of the season. The Braves called him to the Majors to replace an injured Jurrjens and start against the Phillies in Philadelphia on Sept. 19 of that year.
"It is incredible how quickly I've gotten to where I am," Beachy said.
Those who have come to understand Beachy's drive understand that he is certainly not yet satisfied. When his dreams of swinging like Frank Thomas or Barry Larkin died, he continued to fight to find a way to continue playing baseball. Since being given the unexpected opportunity to play at a professional level, he has been determined not to squander it.
"He's going to be a top-of-the-rotation guy," Hudson said. "He's got a great work ethic. But more than that, I think he's hungry. He was a guy who was not handed anything. Those kinds of guys play with chips on their shoulders. Those are the kinds of guys you'd like to have on your team."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.