Results tagged ‘ dave lezotte ’
Saturday, September 19 was a special night for 14 of the top players in the Atlanta Braves’ organization who were invited to Turner Field to be recognized as the club’s Minor League Pitchers and Players of the Year. The group, including players from each level and affiliate of the organization, received a tour of the clubhouse, watched batting practice from the field and mingled with some of the current Braves’ Major Leaguers prior to accepting their awards in a pregame ceremony.
For Woodstock, GA native and Mercer University (Macon, GA) product Brandon Barker, the Pitcher of the Year for Advanced-A Carolina, the night was more than just a chance to reflect on a breakout season, it was the opportunity to live out a childhood dream.
“When I was in college and growing up, I always dreamed of playing for my hometown team, the Braves,” said Barker. “I grew up a fan, so being out here is a great experience. I mean, it’s just awesome. I never thought I’d actually be on the Braves’ field.”
Barker earned that chance to step out on the Turner Field playing surface by asserting himself as one of the top pitchers in the Braves’ organization in 2015. He went 12-10 with a 3.25 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 146.2 innings, leading all Braves’ farmhands in wins and strikeouts and finishing sixth in the system in ERA. The 23-year-old made 27 starts across three levels, advancing from Class-A Rome all the way to Triple-A Gwinnett by season’s end.
His best numbers came with the Carolina Mudcats, where he went 8-5 with a 3.00 ERA and eight quality starts in 17 total starts to earn the club’s Pitcher of the Year award.
“It’s a great honor to be here, and I’m happy that the Braves gave me the award for Carolina,” said Barker prior to the September 19 ceremony. “It’s such a surreal experience coming out here and seeing the locker room, seeing all the facilities and being on the field with everybody, it’s just a great experience.”
Selected by Atlanta out of Mercer in the 16th round in 2014, Barker made his professional debut that same season, going 5-2 with a 3.96 ERA in 14 games, five starts between Rookie-level Danville and Rome. He returned to Rome to open 2015, going 3-4 with a 3.48 ERA in eight starts.
A promotion to Carolina followed, but it wouldn’t prove to be his highest rung on the organizational ladder. Barker went on to make two spot starts for the G-Braves, facing the Charlotte Knights on July 5 at Coolray Field and the Norfolk Tides on September 2 at Harbor Park.
“To be honest, no,” said Barker when asked if he thought he’d reach the Triple-A level this year. “But I knew that if I just worked hard and took it day by day and did what I could on my end, that things would hopefully work out and I’d get my chance.”
His first chance with Gwinnett produced mixed results as he took the loss in his Triple-A debut on July 5. Barker held the potent Charlotte offense to two runs over his first four innings, but was saddled with two more runs after his exit with one out in the fifth. Over 4.1 innings, he yielded four runs on four hits, walked three and struck out an impressive seven batters. Barker exited in a 2-2 game, and the G-Braves went on to lose by a narrow 5-4 margin.
“The first game that I came up, I was a little nervous, just because I didn’t know anybody that I was playing with,” admitted Barker. “I’m from Woodstock, so it’s not too far away. I had a lot of friends and family there. So I was a little bit nervous the first time. But the second time I went out there, I knew I’ve already been there and thought I could do the job. I just did the best that I could, and it turned out well.”
The next time the G-Braves tabbed him to start on September 2, the club was in the heat of a playoff chase. Following a 6-2 win in game one of a rain-soaked doubleheader at Harbor Park in Norfolk, VA, Gwinnett trailed the Tides by 3.0 games for first place in the International League South Division. Only six games remained in the regular season.
Barker helped keep slim postseason hopes alive by throwing 5.0 innings for the victory, holding the Tides to two runs (one earned) on five hits, walking one and striking out three. The G-Braves swept the twinbill with a 7-2 win, cutting Norfolk’s division lead to 2.0 games. That damp September night proved to be the last start and win of Barker’s tremendous 2015 campaign.
Ending his second season with success at the highest level of the Atlanta Braves’ system will give Barker plenty of confidence heading into 2016, but the right-handed starter is stopping short of worrying about which level he’ll open at next year.
“It’s just a great way to end the season so I can work hard in the offseason and have a good Spring Training, and hopefully — you know what, it doesn’t matter what team I break camp with, I just want to have a successful season.”
The Atlanta Braves traded one former G-Brave for another yesterday, sending infielder Tommy La Stella and an international bonus pool slot (No. 4) to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for right-hander Arodys Vizcaino and three international bonus pool slots (No. 2, No. 3, No. 4).
Time for a G-Braves-centric look at the trade:
La Stella entered 2014 with plenty of hype, having earned the Braves’ “Best Hitter for Average” and “Best Strike Zone Discipline” distinctions from Baseball America. Though he didn’t display much power in his Triple-A debut, he was as-advertised for Gwinnett, batting .293 with a .384 on-base percentage in 47 games. He ranked among International League leaders in lowest TPA/SO ratio (2nd, 1 SO/14.21 TPA), walks (T-8th, 25) and on-base percentage (10th) as of May 28, and Atlanta rewarded him with his first Major League call-up.
A few more of La Stella’s Gwinnett highlights:
- He reached base safely in 21 consecutive games from April 10 to May 2, batting .325 (27-for-83) with one double and 14 RBIs. It was the longest on-base streak by a G-Brave in 2014.
- In 23 games at Coolray Field, he batted .346 (27-for-78) with two doubles and eight RBIs.
- In his final game with Gwinnett on May 27 at Pawtucket, he belted his first career Triple-A home run, a two-run shot off RHP Matt Barnes.
La Stella started hot in the Majors, batting .411 with nine multi-hit games over his first 16 contests. He leveled off, however, batting .251 with 16 doubles, one home run and 31 RBIs in 93 total games with the Braves. By season’s end, he saw decreased playing time with the emergence of fellow former G-Brave Phil Gosselin.
In sending La Stella to the Cubs, the Braves have helped clear up their second base log-jam. Gosselin is a good bet to be the Braves’ starting second baseman next April, but he may only be a placeholder for Jose Peraza. The Braves’ top prospect and 2014 Minor League Player of the Year, Peraza batted .339 with a .364 on-base percentage and 60 stolen bases between two levels last season, but hasn’t yet played above Double-A. He could follow the same path as La Stella, starting the year in a Gwinnett uniform before earning a Major League call-up during the season. Second base sets up to be an intriguing spot for the G-Braves in 2015, as Gosselin, Peraza or Tyler Pastornicky could see time at the position.
Yesterday’s trade also brings the hard-throwing Vizcaino back to the Braves organization. Before Tommy John surgery in 2012 and a trade to the Cubs that July, he was included with Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado as the next wave of prospect pitchers bound for Atlanta. The Coolray Field faithful saw him briefly during the pitching-rich 2011 season, when he went 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA, no walks and eight strikeouts in 7.0 innings with Gwinnett. Vizcaino made his Major League debut with Atlanta that same season, going 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA, nine walks and 17 strikeouts in 17 games, 17.1 innings.
Vizcaino had a comeback year in 2014, as he went 1-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 18 walks and 42 strikeouts over 41.0 innings in the Cubs’ minor league system. His September call-up to Chicago produced a 5.40 ERA in five outings, 5.0 innings.
Though Vizcaino logged most of his appearances at Triple-A Iowa, he was certainly acquired to compete for a bullpen spot with Atlanta this Spring. His addition also provides competition for another flame-throwing former G-Brave, right-hander Juan Jaime. Jaime and his upper-90’s fastball have been impressive in both Gwinnett and Atlanta, but he’ll have to improve his control and limit his walks (45 in 53.1 combined innings) to stick in the Majors.
This deal in the long run seems to be more about the international bonus pool slots and the minor league depth the Braves can build with them, but it also helps Atlanta bolster their pitching staff while clearing up the picture at second base.
Following a historic front office revamp in October, the Atlanta Braves are preparing for their most important Hot Stove season in recent franchise history. Here at the G-Blog, we’ll periodically take a look at some of the players that President of Baseball Operations John Hart and the new regime are bringing in, specifically those that will have an impact on the 2015 roster here in Gwinnett.
Yesterday marked Atlanta’s first foray into Major/Minor League free agency this offseason, as the club announced the signing of outfielder Zoilo Almonte to a one-year Major League deal and pitchers Chien-Ming Wang and Donnie Veal to Minor League deals. While these acquisitions aren’t the most notable the Braves will make this winter, they are proof that Hart and company are committed to building a deeper organization through the addition of established veterans.
Anyone who follows the Gwinnett Braves or the Triple-A International League closely will be familiar with all three players. Almonte, Wang and Veal all spent significant time in the IL last season, and each played against the G-Braves on more than one occasion.
Almonte, on Atlanta’s 40-man roster, will contend for a spot on the 25-man Major League roster this Spring. He’s the youngest of the three acquisitions at age 25, and he’s logged brief stints with the New York Yankees in each of the past two seasons. Almonte has never quite settled in at the plate in the big leagues, batting .211 with two home runs and 12 RBIs in 47 career games, but he’s done plenty at the Triple-A level to make him an intriguing prospect. In 105 games with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders last year, he batted .261 with 18 doubles, 18 home runs and 69 RBIs. His banner performance of 2014 occurred against Gwinnett at Coolray Field from July 23-24, a game that took two days to complete due to rain. Almonte went 4-for-6 with three homers and seven RBIs in a 12-4 rout of the G-Braves, launching solo and three-run shots off Kanekoa Texeira and adding another three-run clout off Carlos Fisher.
Almonte is reportedly out of options and would have to clear waivers should the Braves ever want to send him to Gwinnett, so it’s unlikely that he’ll bring his homer show back to Coolray Field in 2015. That’s not to say his addition won’t have an effect on the G-Braves’ roster. IL veterans Todd Cunningham and Joey Terdoslavich, also competitors for the Atlanta bench, are now more likely to return to Gwinnett for their third and fourth seasons, respectively. Cunningham (.287, 8 HR, 58 RBI, 19 SB) and Terdoslavich (.256, 15 HR, 61 RBI) both had productive Triple-A seasons a year ago.
In contrast to Almonte, Wang appears to be specifically signed to help the Gwinnett roster. The Taiwanese right-hander posted back-to-back 19-win seasons with the New York Yankees in 2006 and 2007, but suffered a career-altering foot injury in 2008 and has since seen his profile transition to Triple-A workhorse. Since the start of 2011, the 34-year-old has made twice as many starts in the International League (50) as he has in the Major Leagues (22). Last year, Wang made an IL-best 28 starts with two organizations, going 13-8 with a 4.12 ERA with the Louisville Bats (Cincinnati Reds) and the Charlotte Knights (Chicago White Sox). He struck out just 73 batters over 172.2 innings, but kept the ball on the ground with a 1.78 groundout/flyout ratio and only six homers allowed.
Much like Almonte, Wang had success facing the G-Braves last year. He went 1-0 with a 2.92 ERA in two starts while with Louisville, then finished 3-0 with a 3.54 ERA in three starts with Charlotte. He worked at least 6.0 innings in four of his five meetings with Gwinnett, including 7.1 scoreless, nine-hit frames in a win with the Bats on June 14.
If he joins Gwinnett, Wang would be the elder statesman of a starting rotation that could include returnees Cody Martin (7-8, 3.52) and Aaron Northcraft (7-10, 4.70) and Double-A standouts Jason Hursh (11-7, 3.58) and Williams Perez (7-6, 2.91). Another season of 170-plus innings from Wang would also help keep the bullpen fresh in 2015.
Speaking of the Gwinnett bullpen, that’s where you might find the left-handed Veal come April. Veal, a second-round pick by the Chicago Cubs back in 2005, has had a taste of the Majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago White Sox. In 100 total games from 2009 through 2014, he went 3-3 with a 4.87 ERA and one save. His best year was 2011, when he went 0-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 24 relief outings with the White Sox. Far more of his time has been spent at the Triple-A level, where he logged 25 games with the Indianapolis Indians from 2009-2011 and 89 games with the Charlotte Knights from 2012-2014.
After going 2-2 with a 2.70 ERA in 17 relief outings for Charlotte in 2013, Veal took a step back in 2014, going 4-5 with a 5.94 ERA in 37 appearances. Against Gwinnett, he went 0-0 with a 9.00 ERA in three meetings. Though his recent numbers don’t impress, the 30-year-old southpaw will get a look in Major League camp this Spring. Should he fail to make the Atlanta roster, he’ll be an asset for a Gwinnett bullpen in flux. Of last year’s G-Braves relief staff, right-hander Pedro Beato and left-handers Ryan Buchter and Atahualpa Severino are all Minor League free agents. That trio combined to make 131 appearances for the club last season.
Yesterday’s moves don’t represent a “big splash” at the Major League level, but they are the Atlanta Braves’ first steps toward building better organizational depth — and a better Triple-A club — in 2015.
Much like David Hale, outfielder Todd Cunningham has seen quite a shift in his expectations this spring. A year ago, he entered Major League camp as the reigning Atlanta Braves Minor League Player of the Year, an award that earned him a spot as a non-roster invitee. He played in 22 Grapefruit League games before ultimately opening the season with Triple-A Gwinnett, where he went on to hit .265 with 60 runs scored an 20 stolen bases. This spring, Cunningham is a member of the 40-man roster with a taste of the Majors under his belt (he hit .250 in eight games for Atlanta last year), vying for a return trip to Turner Field. Gwinnett Braves Media Relations Manager Dave Lezotte caught up with him today at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
DL: Last year, you were a non-roster invitee to Braves Spring Training. This year, you’re on the 40-man roster. How does this spring compare to last year?
TC: Every year, you’re just trying to get ready for Spring Training. Wherever you settle in the lineup or whatever team you end up on, it kind of works itself out. It’s all about getting ready for the season and being ready to go for game one.
DL: You’re competing for a roster spot with Atlanta, going up against some former Gwinnett teammates like Jose Constanza and Joey Terdoslavich. What’s that competition like?
TC: We all get along so well, there’s no bad blood among us. It’s all about the competition. We go out and we play hard, all of us enjoy the game of baseball. We have that connection, that bond, regardless of what happens. It’s all about going out there and playing hard.
DL: Obviously you still root for those guys when they’re at the plate.
TC: Yeah, they’re your teammates. You’ve come up with them and played with them, so you want everyone to do well.
DL: Last year with Gwinnett, you hit two home runs all year. In your third game this spring, you homered. What was it like showing some power in a Major League Spring Training game?
TC: It feels good. Hopefully that works itself into my swing; it’s something that I’ve tried to incorporate a little bit. Hopefully that shows up throughout the whole season.
DL: As a G-Brave in 2013, you were the everyday centerfielder. This spring, you’ve been playing a lot of left field. Are you still working towards being in center, or is it left field now?
TC: The whole goal is to be able to play as many (positions) as possible. You start looking at the levels above you, the big league level and who they have, and there’s a lot of contracts out there. For me and my position, trying to find a way to get in there, you have to be able to play more than one. The more positions I can play, the better, but obviously the longer I can stay in the middle of the field, the better, too.
DL: Is there different preparation involved for playing the corner outfield spots as opposed to center?
TC: Balls just don’t stay true on the corners, you get all the slices and hooks and top-spin. It’s a lot about first-step reads.
DL: Last season with Gwinnett, you hit .265 and stole 20 bases. Is there an area of your game that you’re working on improving for this year?
TC: Just being able to drive the ball consistently. I’d kind of go through stretches last year where I’d get behind some balls. To be able to do it throughout the whole year, would obviously improve (my) game.
DL: Last year, you got the opportunity to make your Major League debut with the Braves. It was a limited stint, but certainly an eye-opening experience for you. How important is that experience for you heading into this season?
TC: It’s great. It put me in position to come in as a roster invitee. It was just a really cool experience, to kind of get (my) feet wet. Especially when we were on that 14-game winning streak, it was a lot of fun to be in that atmosphere.
DL: Brian Snitker is the manager in Gwinnett this year. You got a chance to work with him at the Major League level last season, what are your thoughts on Snit?
TC: I’m excited to have his experience transferred down to the Triple-A level. He’s been around the game for a long time, so I’m sure there are things that everyone can pick up from him.
DL: The Gwinnett roster obviously will take shape once the Atlanta roster works itself out, but there should be a veteran presence on the club this year. I know you guys aren’t thinking about Triple-A just yet, but what’s your early feeling about the Gwinnett club?
TC: The whole goal, like I said, is to get to the big leagues, but also be ready for game one. I think everyone is going to be on the same page there and be ready in case the opportunity presents itself to be in Atlanta. As far as how the Triple-A team is going to shape up, I think it’s going to be a lot of guys all with the same goal in mind, which is really cool when you get that many guys on the same page. It should be an exciting year, wherever I end up.
DL: If you do end up back in Gwinnett at some point this season, how do you handle that?
TC: Just the same as I’ve always handled it. It’s baseball, I’m trying to get better, I have things that I’m working on. Keep the big picture in mind, trying to get back to Atlanta, and just keep working.
This time last year, right-hander David Hale was working on adding a sinker to his repertoire and preparing for his first Triple-A season with Gwinnett. A year later, the Marietta, GA native finds himself competing for an Opening Day roster spot with the Atlanta Braves, having already made his Major League season and postseason debuts last fall. Gwinnett Braves Media Relations Manager Dave Lezotte caught up with Hale today at Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
DL: Last year, you made your Triple-A debut, battled back from a right shoulder strain and made your Major League debut by season’s end. A lot of things happened to you in one season. What did you learn from those experiences?
DH: Just to stick with it, and to improve on the stuff that I have. I added another pitch last year, my sinker. It gave me a lot of confidence in pitching, and I could focus more on the art of pitching instead of just trying to overpower people. I could actually go at them with a pitch that I could come in on them and then go away on them. It’s more of an art to me now, to focus on pitching like that.
DL: September 13, 2013, you made your Major League debut for the Atlanta Braves. Being from Marietta, growing up a Braves fan and getting a chance to make a debut in front of your family and friends, what was that like?
DH: It was incredible, I had so many people there that I haven’t seen in years. To have all them come out and support me, it means a lot, it really does.
DL: You worked 5.0 scoreless, four-hit innings and struck out nine in that game. You didn’t have more than nine strikeouts in any Triple-A start all season. Did your performance surprise you that night?
DH: I think it did. It was good for me because it gave me some confidence; let me know that I can perform at that level. I couldn’t have asked for a better outing, just to do that in front of my family and friends, and like I said, to give myself some confidence.
DL: You got a win the next time out on September 26 vs. Philadelphia, and not long after, you were named to the Braves’ postseason roster. How shocking was that?
DH: You know, I really wasn’t expecting that. When it came down to it, I guess they were looking for a long relief kind of guy, and I was able to fill that spot. It was a blast; it’s something that I certainly won’t ever forget.
DL: You pitched in Game 3 of the NLDS at Los Angeles, a tough 13-6 loss for the Braves. Still, it was a huge personal moment for you at the end of that game. What was it like stepping on the mound in the playoffs, at Dodger Stadium of all places?
DH: It was pretty cool to be on the mound during the playoff atmosphere. Like you said, L.A., that place is enormous; I didn’t realize it was the largest stadium in the league. It was a little daunting, but we were down a little bit, so that took away (some) of the nerves because it was out of our hands. But still, my heart was racing and it was fun to be there.
DL: When we talked last season, one of the things we focused on was your use of video as preparation at the Triple-A level. You have access to even more of that at the Major League level, what is your preparation like here?
DH: I kind of do the same thing. We have a lot of the same video stuff in the big leagues as in Triple-A, so I always like watching that. I get a feel for the hitter before I ever see him, so it’s like I’ve faced him before. It’s being comfortable through knowledge, I guess.
DL: This year at Spring Training, you’re competing for a Major League roster spot. What is that competition process like?
DH: It’s pretty stiff. We have a lot of good starting pitching, so I’m just doing the best I can and hopefully putting the ball in the decision-makers’ courts.
DL: What are you working on the most this spring?
DH: Consistency, that’s something I’ll say for the rest of my career. Working on that sinker, just being consistent with it, as well as my off-speed pitches.
DL: Do you have a good feel for that sinker so far this year?
DH: Yeah, it actually is feeling really good right now. I’ve got to get that off-speed stuff going again, but it’s early obviously, and that’s why we have Spring Training. Just getting the feel back.
DL: You’ve been a starter and a reliever in your minor league career. Would you accept either role in the Majors?
DH: I’ll catch if they want me to. Whatever they want me to do to be on this roster, I’ll do it.
DL: This is a young pitching staff, both the rotation and the bullpen. Who do the young guys look up to on the staff?
DH: Like you said, it’s a pretty young staff. (Kris) Medlen has taken on a big leadership role. Then you have Freddy (Garcia), he’s been around forever, so we all look up to him.
DL: If you end up back in Gwinnett at some point this season, how do you handle that?
DH: Just stick with it and just keep getting better through practice. I don’t think any team has ever had 25 men on it for the entire season. I just need to put myself in position to take a spot if one opens up.
The Gwinnett Braves held a press conference on Thursday afternoon to introduce their new Field Manager Brian Snitker.
In front of local media, VIP guests and front office staff, Snitker officially took over as the new skipper of the Gwinnett Braves. He replaces Randy Ready, who left the organization after one season with the Braves. Snitker will serve as the third manager in Gwinnett Braves’ franchise history.
“This is a great opportunity for me,” said Snitker. “I live 14 miles from here. I have raised my kids here in Lilburn and Brookwood High School. My mom lives five minutes from here. This couldn’t be any better for me.”
Snitker, who last served as the third base coach for the Atlanta Braves, has plenty of managerial experience, spending 17 seasons with the Atlanta Braves organization. He posted a career 1140-1145 record while leading ten different affiliates from 1982 through 2006. In 1999 and 2000, he led the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to consecutive Carolina League Championships. After the 2006 season, Snitker joined the Atlanta Braves as their third base coach and served under Hall of Fame Manager Bobby Cox and current Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez.
“I got to work with two of the better managers in the game of baseball, Bobby Cox and Fredi Gonzalez,” said Snitker. “They were practically the same guy on how they handled situations, players and the adversity that people don’t see on an everyday basis.”
The thirty minute conference was lighthearted and fun, as Snitker was joined by General Manager North Johnson, Media Relations Manager Dave Lezotte and Atlanta Braves prospects Lucas Sims, Kyle Kubitza, J.R. Graham, Gus Schlosser and Aaron Northcraft. Snitker and the prospects fielded questions from the local media as well as Gwinnett Braves season ticket holders. Snitker will head to Spring Training as soon as pitchers and catchers report to Lake Buena Vista, FL at the beginning of February.
All in all, it was a great day to be at Coolray Field. With the beginning of the season approaching, Snitker is up for the job. Gwinnett kicks off the home schedule at Coolray Field on Friday, April 11th at 7:05 p.m. against the Durham Bulls. For more information on the G-Braves and Coolray Field, visit Gwinnettbraves.com, as well as our social media outlets at facebook.com/GwinnettBraves1 and twitter.com/GwinnettBraves!
Yesterday, I delved a bit into the background of right-hander Wirfin Obispo, the hard-throwing Gwinnett Braves closer who was just added to the Atlanta Braves’ 40-man roster last Friday. Today, it’s time to do the same for the other newest 40-man addition, left-hander Ryan Buchter.
The 26-year-old Buchter emerged as a bullpen force for the G-Braves last season, compiling a 4-0 record and a 2.76 ERA in 51 relief appearances. In addition to converting all five of his save chances, the southpaw also ranked among International League relief leaders in strikeouts per 9.0 IP ratio (1st, 14.95) and lowest opponent batting average (3rd, .168). Buchter’s most impressive work came down the stretch as he posted a 0.00 ERA over his final 14 appearances in August and September.
Much like Obispo, Buchter’s “breakout” season in 2013 came after a well-traveled start to his career. Originally drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 33rd round of the 2005 draft, the New Jersey native has already been traded twice. The Nationals dealt him to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for right-hander Matt Avery in 2008, and the Cubs moved him to Atlanta in a deal for right-hander Rodrigo Lopez in 2011. Amid the ever-changing scenery, including stops in eight different leagues, Buchter put together All-Star seasons in the Class-A Midwest League in 2009 and the Double-A Southern League in 2010.
Buchter’s travels and subsequent learning experiences were featured in a story I wrote for the final regular-season issue of Tomahawk Talk last year. In it, he reflected on his unlikely discovery by the Nationals, the benefits of being traded, his confidence gained from the 2012 Arizona Fall League, his “rollercoaster” 2013 season in Gwinnett and more.
Buchter Breaks Out
Left-hander Ryan Buchter has emerged as a go-to arm out of the Gwinnett Braves bullpen in 2013
by Dave Lezotte (published in Tomahawk Talk, August 26, 2013)
He may not qualify as the biggest prospect arm on the Gwinnett Braves’ roster, but what left-hander Ryan Buchter has been able to do in his first full Triple-A season is nothing short of impressive. The New Jersey native has held International League hitters to a .178 batting average, striking out 83 over 51 innings in 42 outings this year.
Buchter’s professional career, including stops with the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs organizations, has always been a bit under-the-radar. Even his signing by Washington came about almost on accident.
“It was a mistake,” said Buchter about his discovery by the Nationals. “I ended up pitching against somebody who was being scouted already. I kind of outpitched him, and it all started from there.”
The pitcher being scouted by both the Nationals and the Cubs was Winslow Township High School right-hander Chris Rollins. The Nationals passed on Rollins in the 2005 First Year Player Draft, but took Buchter in the 33rd round out of Highland Regional High School in Blackwood, NJ.
A draft-and-follow selection, Buchter attended Gloucester County Community College in nearby Sewell, NJ before starting his professional career in 2006 at age 19. His first two seasons as a Nationals’ farmhand were anything but successful. In his first year in the Gulf Coast League, he went 1-1 with a 7.24 ERA in 11 games, one start. The next year, he went 1-2 with a 6.82 ERA at Short-A Vermont. He finally showed some promise in 2008, going 4-2 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 games between the GCL and Class-A Hagerstown, but was traded away after the season.
The Nationals dealt Buchter to the Cubs in exchange for right-hander Matt Avery on November 3, 2008. The change of scenery proved to be a turning point in his career.
“Getting traded kind of jump-started me,” said Buchter about the move to the Cubs. “It made me take a different path in my career. I started to work a little harder that off-season and it started to show right away. From there, I kept building and building. I attribute (my success) to being traded and not wanting to let the new team down.”
With his career refreshed in a new organization, Buchter put together two award-winning seasons in the Cubs’ system. In 2009, he made his first professional All-Star Game, going 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA and five saves in 38 games for the Peoria Chiefs of the Class-A Midwest League. A year later, he was an All-Star again in the Double-A Southern League, going 7-2 with a 4.65 ERA in 47 games for the Tennessee Smokies. His third campaign as a Cub began with mixed results as he split time between Tennessee and Advanced-A Daytona, but another shakeup was imminent.
On May 26, 2011, Buchter was traded for the second time. The Cubs sent him to Atlanta in exchange for 35-year-old right-hander Rodrigo Lopez.
“I was just sent down to High-A to iron out some kinks,” reflected Buchter on the time of the trade. “I started throwing well in Daytona with the intention of (moving back up) to Double-A or Triple-A. When I got traded, (Daytona manager Buddy Bailey) pulled me aside and said ‘I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is, you’ve been traded. The bad news is, you’re going back to High-A.’ That was a difficult thing to handle.”
Buchter started his Atlanta Braves’ career with Advanced-A Lynchburg, going 2-5 with a 3.59 ERA and a career-high 15 savs in 2011. In 2012, he moved on to Double-A Mississippi, returning to the Southern League for the first time since pitching with Tennessee. Facing familiar competition, he boasted a 3-1 record, 1.31 ERA and four saves in 35 relief outings for the M-Braves.
“I just went out and did what I knew I could do,” said Buchter about his success. “Just give me an opportunity and I’ll pitch and throw well, especially late in the game. I embraced the role I was being used in, seventh, eighth, sometimes ninth (inning) and it worked out.”
His stint with Mississippi worked out for a late-season promotion to Gwinnett for his Triple-A debut. Buchter went 0-2 with a 10.12 ERA in nine outings for the G-Braves, indicating that he still needed some refinement. A trip to the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League and an extended look in Braves’ Major League camp during the spring helped him regain confidence.
“It helped me iron out some bad habits that I created when I came up here (to Gwinnett),” said Buchter about his fall and spring assignments. “It made me realize that I can get anybody out. I can get the prospects out; I can get the big league guys out. Once you realize that, I don’t want to say the game becomes easier, but you start to have a little more faith in yourself.”
Buchter began his 2013 season on Gwinnett’s Opening Day roster and was nearly unhittable early, postin a 1.00 ERA in nine April outings. He came back down to earth in the summer months, going 0-0 with a 4.58 ERA in 28 games from May through July, but found his best stuff in August. Through his first seven games, he went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and one save.
“It’s been a pretty fun rollercoaster,” said Buchter about 2013. “With pitching, it’s easy to be a perfectionist and want to go out and pick yourself apart for giving up a walk or giving up a hit. Sometimes the hardest thing is to realize that if you throw up a zero (no runs), it’s actually a good inning no matter what else happens.”
He’s had plenty of those good innings lately for Gwinnett, most of them in pivotal spots. With the departure of closer Cory Rasmus to the Los Angeles Angels in a July trade, Buchter has been given more opportunities to pitch with late leads and in save situations. Pitching in tight ballgames is something he relishes.
“The game’s a little more fun when you’re out there and you’re up by one, down by one and you know your team needs you to throw up a zero,” said Buchter. “It’s something that I’ve learned to embrace and I look forward to a one-run game. I get a little antsy in the bullpen hoping they’ll call down and say my name, that way I get a chance to come in.”
Buchter has climbed to the top of the league in relief strikeouts thanks to a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and a willingness to challenge hitters with it. For the left-hander, getting ahead in the count quickly is the key to his prolific strikeout numbers.
“If I get ahead, a lot of times my success rate is a lot higher than a lot of guys,” said Buchter. “Get strike one, and then I try to pitch to one side of the plate for righties and lefties. If I get two strikes on a guy, then I’ll try to put him away. It’s a very simple game plan. A lot of fastballs; then I’ll mix the cutter in and then try to put them away with the breaking ball.”
Buchter’s professional career started with an unlikely discovery, progressed with three different organizations and has resulted in a 2013 season that has him closer than ever to the Major Leagues. While he waits for a shot at Atlanta’s bullpen, he remains optimistic and focused.
“Obviously, you’re waiting for your turn, and for a lot of bullpen guys, it’s luck,” said Buchter. “It’s luck and what the team has planned for you. They may have a plan for you, they might not, but you’ve got to continue to stay focused on the task at hand down here (in Gwinnett). It’s good to just keep your mind on things down here and do your job every day. If you don’t do your job here, they’re not going to be looking for you anyway.”
The Atlanta Braves will certainly be giving Buchter a long look when Spring Training starts up in February. For the first time in his career, he has the stability that comes from being on a Major League 40-man roster.
Steady rain resulting from a changing weather pattern forced the postponement of Tuesday’s scheduled 2:05 PM game between the Gwinnett Braves and Pawtucket Red Sox at Coolray Field. The game will be made up as a single nine-inning contest on Wednesday, August 29 beginning at 1:05 PM. All tickets for Wednesday’s game will be free to the public.
As a result of the rapidly changing weather ahead of Hurricane Isaac, Wednesday’s game was originally postponed with a doubleheader scheduled for Thursday, August 30 starting at 5:05 PM. That doubleheader is on as planned. With Wednesday now serving as the make-up date for Tuesday’s postponed game, the Gwinnett Braves have decided to make all admission for the 1:05 PM game free of charge. Thursday’s games will still feature regularly-priced tickets.
Fans are advised to continue checking in at gwinnettbraves.com for updated details on the remaining games of this final homestand. For tickets, call the Coolray Field Box Office at (678) 277-0340.
By: Tony Piraro & Dave Lezotte
Photo courtesy of Karl Moore
Christmas comes early at Coolray Field on Wednesday, July 25 as the Gwinnett Braves celebrate “Christmas in July” during a 7:05 PM game against Durham. The G-Braves will host a toy drive with all toys collected going to North Atlanta Toys for Tots. The night will also include an appearance by Santa, a Christmas Ornament giveaway, numerous holiday-themed contests and more.
The toy drive aims to collect new, unwrapped toys for needy children ages 0-12. Each donor will receive a buy-one, get-one ticket coupon for the remainder of the G-Braves’ 2012 regular season.
Coolray Field will be transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with festive decorations around the ballpark and holiday attire worn by stadium staff. Fans are encouraged to join in and dress up in their favorite Christmas wear, including tacky holiday sweaters. There will be a tacky sweater contest held, as well as other contests and giveaways throughout the evening.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Hamby
The first 1,500 fans through the gates will receive a Gwinnett Braves Christmas Ornament. All in attendance will have the opportunity to win one of nine Christmas prizes, including a Coca-Cola hot dog toaster, Keurig coffee brewer, cotton candy maker, homemade ice cream maker, remote-controlled helicopter, bicycle, Nintendo WII system, Sony 5.1 surround sound system and a 32″ Toshiba HDTV.
Fans will also have the opportunity to purchase a pre-game picnic with Santa himself, including a game ticket plus a meal and cupcake decorating for $20. To secure your spot in the picnic, call the Coolray Field Box Office at 678-277-0340. Tickets for all Gwinnett Braves home games are on sale now at the Coolray Field Box Office. Call (678) 277-0340 or visit gwinnettbraves.com for more information.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Hamby
By: Tony Piraro & Dave Lezotte
Photo courtesy of Kyle Hess
LAWRENCEVILLE, GA – Rain has forced the suspension of Tuesday night’s series finale between the Gwinnett Braves and Charlotte Knights at Coolray Field. The game was scoreless when a storm stopped the action heading into the bottom of the second inning. The game will be resumed at Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, SC on Thursday, July 5 at 5:15 p.m. A seven-inning contest will follow the continued game.
Tickets for Tuesday’s game can be exchanged for tickets to any remaining 2012 regular-season game by visiting the Coolray Field Box Office.
Julio Teheran made the start for Gwinnett on Tuesday prior to the rain. The right-hander worked a scoreless first inning before the weather cut short play in the second inning. Unfortunately for the G-Braves ace, his next start is now TBA.
The G-Braves (39-47) and Knights (48-38) will play a regularly-scheduled nine-inning game at Knights Stadium on Wednesday night, first pitch scheduled for 7:15 PM. Left-hander Jose Lugo (1-4, 5.77) is expected to start for Gwinnett against right-hander Deunte Heath (4-2, 1.70) of Charlotte. The game will be broadcast on WDUN 550 AM and 102.9 FM in Gainesville, GA with Tony Schiavone calling the play-by-play.
The Gwinnett Braves return to Coolray Field on Friday, July 6 as they open a three-game series against the Durham Bulls. Tickets for all remaining home games are on sale now at the Coolray Field Box Office. Call (678) 277-0340 or visit gwinnettbraves.com for more information.
By: Tony Piraro & Dave Lezotte