DANVILLE, Va.—The wait was a long one for Kevin Maitan.
After signing with the Braves for $4.25 million out of Venezuela last year, the teenage shortstop went through nothing but workouts, scrimmages, intrasquads and practices for nearly a year. It was all necessary to get him ready for the rigors of professional baseball, but the desire to compete in an actual game gnawed at him throughout.
"I was desperate to play," Maitan said through a translator. "I wanted to be able to come out and help a team."
That desire is finally being fulfilled. Maitan reported to Rookie-level Danville this week and has a hit in each of his first three games with the Braves, including a 1-for-4 effort on Wednesday in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Greeneville (Astros).
At 17 years old Maitan is the youngest player on Danville's roster by nearly 14 months. But after he hit .314 with three doubles in nine games in the Gulf Coast League—the first nine games of his professional career—the Braves felt he was up for the challenge.
"I was really surprised, I was expecting to be down in Florida a little bit longer," Maitan said. "I wasn't expecting to be promoted so quick, but they have faith in me and I thank the organization for taking care of me and promoting me."
Maitan's pro debut comes amidst considerable hype.
As a switch-hitting shortstop who evaluators projected had 30-home run potential, Maitan had his pick of suitors.
"He can do everything," said Danville manager Nestor Perez, who also worked extensively with Maitan in the spring. "He's a good overall player. He can catch the ball. He can hit. He can run pretty decent. Got a strong arm. That's why he's one of the top prospects in the game."
While Maitan's talent has long been visible, it's his handling of the challenges that come with acclimating to pro ball that have impressed every bit as much. A teenager thousands of miles from home and dealing with cultural and language barriers, Maitan has taken everything in stride.
"I feel comfortable here being stateside," Maitan said. "I really feel pretty good."
There has been one major difference Maitan is still adjusting to.
"It's my first time playing at night," he said. "I've never played night games before this. Fielding the ball is very different from day games. Sometimes I lose it in the lights. But I'm just adapting to it."
For all his promise, Maitan is still in the earliest stages of his development. He fouled back or popped up hittable pitches Wednesday, and also got caught chasing breaking pitches in the dirt on the inner half. He has also already gone from 175 pounds when he signed to 211 pounds presently, and will have to keep an eye on his fitness to remain at shortstop.
"I think it takes time," Perez said. "He's young. You have to be patient with him and not put too much pressure on him and just let him play and show how good he is."
The development process may very well be a long one for Maitan. Now that it's happening in actual games though, he doesn't mind one bit.
"I'm not nervous anymore," he said. "I feel happy because I'm playing."
NEWS AND NOTES
• Danville center fielder Drew Waters, the Braves' second-round pick in June, went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in the first game of the doubleheader and did not play the second. The switch-hitting Waters took all his at-bats from the left side. He swung over a 78-mph changeup for his first strikeout, took a fastball on the outside corner after being handcuffed on inside breaking balls in his second at-bat, and swung through elevated mid-90s fastballs for strike three in his third and fourth at-bats.
• Greeneville outfielder Gilberto Celestino, the Astros’ No. 19 prospect, doubled high up the right-field wall in his first at-bat of game one and lined a double into the left-center gap in game two. He finished the day 2-for-8 overall. Celestino played both center field and right field and showcased sound routes and a strong arm in both spots.
• Braves righthander Jasseel De La Cruz sat 92-96 mph with his four-seam fastball, 90-91 mph with his two-seamer and 84-88 mph with a side-to-side, swing-and-miss slider in his Danville debut. He worked three scoreless innings before tiring in the fourth, dropping to 87-90 mph and losing his command as the Astros erupted for six runs in the frame. Still, the 20-year-old righthander had many scouts paying close attention with what he showed in his first three innings.
• Braves catcher William Contreras, the younger brother of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, went 2-for-4 in Game 2 to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Contreras had enough strength to push a jam shot into right field, barreled a hanging breaking ball for a single into center, and had a third hit taken away from him when he lined a hard shot toward left but was robbed by diving Greeneville shortstop Cody Bohanek.
• Danville pulled out a 7-6 win in Game 1 by throwing out the potential tying run at the plate on back-to-back plays. With the Braves holding their one-run lead with one out in the bottom of the seventh, Greeneville's Patrick Mathis doubled into the right-field corner and Roman Garcia raced around the bases from first, but Danville right fielder Leudys Baez and first baseman Griffin Benson teamed up for a perfect relay to nail Garcia at the plate. Three pitches later, the Astros' Ruben Castro singled into left field and Mathis came charging around third, but Braves left fielder Shean Michel fired a pristine one-hopper to the plate and catcher Drew Lugbauer held on after a collision for the dramatic final out. Lugbauer and Mathis got into an altercation after the collision and both benches cleared, but no punches were thrown and order was quickly restored.
• Astros first baseman Colton Shaver drew a bases-loaded walk in the top of the eighth inning to give Greeneville a 2-1 victory in Game 2. Greeneville righthander Humberto Castellanos pitched five innings with three hits, one (unearned) run allowed, no walks and three strikeouts. The 19-year-old from Mexico showed outstanding control in throwing 49 of 69 pitches for strikes and he mixed his 90-91 mph fastball, 81-83 mph curveball and 76-78 mph changeup impressively for his age.