Beachy has pitching DNA of Braves' greats
Youngster conjures memories of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz
It should come as no surprise that the team that flourished with pitchers like Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz would identify and develop a free-agent pitcher named Brandon Beachy.
Glavine was a homegrown product, having been selected by Atlanta in the second round of the 1984 First-Year Player Draft. Chosen by the Chicago Cubs in the 22nd round of the same Draft, the Braves obtained Maddux as a free agent in 1992. His career flourished following his arrival in Atlanta. Finally, Smoltz was a product of the Detroit Tigers' system, after he was selected in the second round of the 1985 Draft. Atlanta traded veteran starting pitcher Doyle Alexander to the Tigers for the promising Smoltz. It was a trade that helped both clubs.
Beachy, 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, has taken a different, unusual path to professional baseball. Generally, but not always, American-born professional players are a product of the First-Year Player Draft. Even after having been selected, chances are slim that a player will graduate to play Major League Baseball. In fact, statistically, only about one out of 10 Minor League players reach the Majors. The undrafted Beachy has reached the Major Leagues, and has become an outstanding starting pitcher.
Having attended high school in his hometown of Kokomo, Ind., Beachy enrolled at Indiana Wesleyan University. While in college, he pitched and played both first and third base. Following his junior year, he was not selected in the June Draft. The Braves took note and signed him as a free agent.
Atlanta used Beachy exclusively as a pitcher in parts of four Minor League seasons, where he threw 213 innings and compiled a 2.54 ERA. Beachy pitched primarily out of the bullpen in his early years, converting to a starting role in 2010 at Double-A Mississippi and later that season at Triple-A Gwinnett.
In September of 2010, Braves starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens injured his knee and had to be replaced in the club's rotation. The team turned to Beachy, who pitched 4 1/3 innings in his first start. While he took the loss, Beachy pitched well. He went on to pitch two more games at the end of the season and began the 2011 campaign as a permanent member of the Braves' starting rotation. Team management, industry scouts, player-development personnel and baseball fans following top prospects realized that Beachy could become something "special."
In fact, Beachy, just 25, is special. It isn't just because he knows how to pitch. There are numerous quality pitchers who know how to pitch. But Beachy knows what is required to win. He knows what it takes to keep hitters off balance. By changing the direction and velocity of his pitches, he keeps hitters guessing at the plate. He also realizes that he doesn't have to throw the ball 100 mph to induce a swing and miss. Beachy is wise and thoughtful on the mound.
Possessing good command of all his pitches, Beachy throws strikes. Hitters are well aware he will be around the plate with his pitches, so they approach their at-bats looking for a pitch they can drive.
Due to his superb control and low walk rate, Beachy has to work hard for his outs. Hitters do take him deep into counts. Since they can't get the barrel of the bat on the ball consistently, they foul off a number of his nasty pitches in an effort to stay alive and sustain at-bats. Those foul balls take their toll by escalating Beachy's pitch count.
As a result, Beachy often depends upon his bullpen to finish what he starts. That is certainly not unusual or uncommon in today's game. Atlanta's bullpen -- one of the best in baseball -- has been remarkably successful in completing games for its starters. Beachy consistently gets the game to the relievers with little or no damage to overcome.
Beachy's repertoire includes a four-seam fastball with a velocity range of 89-92 mph, a very good cutter, an effective slider and a changeup that has a differential of up to 13 mph from his fastball. For good measure, he also throws an outstanding 12-to-6 72-mph curveball.
With that type of effective arsenal, the batter has little indication of what pitch is coming next. As if the velocity differential isn't enough, Beachy often throws the same pitch over and over again. In one sequence in the most recent game I observed, he threw four straight cut fastballs. Wouldn't it be logical to think the changeup or curve would be coming after, say, two cut fastballs? It must be like waiting for Santa and finding The Grinch coming down the chimney. Surprise!
In his last two seasons, Beachy has walked an average of fewer than three hitters a game, while striking out an average of 10 per nine innings. His WHIP last year was 1.207, and after his start on Wednesday it was 0.974 for 2012. After four outings, his record is 2-1 and his ERA is 1.05.
Beachy comes right at hitters and doesn't nibble around the corners in hope of getting called strikes. Rather, he will keep the ball fairly low in the strike zone and induces ground balls or missed swings. The foul balls won't frustrate him. He is aware he'll be throwing lots of pitches. Beachy is also physically fit and athletic, the type of pitcher who will help himself as a fielder and possibly as a hitter. He's just a complete, highly-effective, winning pitcher.
Though Beachy won't be very flashy on the mound, he will continue to be a reliable, hard-working craftsman like his forebears in Atlanta's rotation. His work ethic reminds me of Braves legends Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz. Time will tell if he can be that good.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.