Braves' Resop Returns From Japan Newly Armed
Change has been just about the only constant in the professional life of 27-year-old righthander Chris Resop
He changed organizations four times in a two-year period, which also included a sojourn to the Far East. On his trek through pro ball, he has converted from position player to hard-throwing reliever to his current station in life: ace of the Triple-A Gwinnett rotation, and one of the International League's most effective pitchers in the early going.
Resop has made nine starts for the Braves, and while his 4-1, 2.03 record hints at the success of his transition, it's his peripheral rates that speak the most loudly. He ranks second in the IL in opponent average (.201), third in strikeout rate (10.4 per nine innings) and fourth in fewest baserunners allowed (10.2 per nine). Not bad for a pitcher who didn't learn he'd be starting until the tail end of spring training.
"I got a late start because I worked as a starter for about a week in spring training," said Resop, who made just six starts in his first six years as a pitcher (and four of those came in Japan). "So really, the first few weeks of the season were my spring training.
"At first, it was a bit difficult to get through the aches and pains, but I like the schedule of it. Now, I know when I pitch, so I can prepare for it—you know the running, the lifting weights, the side sessions."
One product of Resop's side sessions in the bullpen this season, not to mention his globe-trotting, has been perhaps the most significant change of all. He now mixes in the occasional change of pace to complement his power fastball and curveball combo.
"I threw my changeup quite a bit in Japan," Resop said. "I still throw it occasionally here. I got a couple outs with it last night (in his May 20 start). Even as a show pitch down and out of the zone it's effective—just to show batters that I have it. That means the hitters have to honor it. But if I throw only fastballs, then they're just going to sit on my fastball."
Resop admits that in his bullpen days, his max-effort approach sometimes entailed throwing fastballs only for one or two innings. He remains aggressive, but he's altered his approach so as to leave a little gas in the tank for later in games. "If I want to, I can still go get 95-96 (mph)," he said, "but for the most part I'm pitching at 92-93 as a starter." Accordingly, Resop's pitch counts have increased each time out, and he has averaged 97 pitches per start his last four times out.
But were it not for a stint with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan, Resop might never have developed his feel for the changeup.
"Those guys over there are just really, really smart hitters," he said. "They're not afraid of how hard you throw. They'll just foul you off until you make a mistake. So I really had to learn how to pitch. You know, doing things like throwing fastballs in offspeed counts, and offspeed in fastball counts. That's really where you develop your changeup, in those situations.
"Plus, the curveball and changeup are really good pitches over there, where they're more slider and forkball."
The Marlins plucked Resop out of their own backyard, using a fourth-round pick to take the Naples, Fla., two-way prep standout in the 2001 draft. He entered pro ball as an outfielder but hit just .193 with one home run in his first three seasons. Still just 20, Resop consented in July 2003 to the Marlins' suggestion that he try pitching again.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound righthander appeared in his first pro game as a pitcher on July 23, 2003, playing for the same low Class A Greensboro club for which he appeared as a DH about a month earlier. According to our 2004 Prospect Handbook: "After a few weeks of work with Greensboro pitching coach Scott Mitchell, Resop soon started pumping 95 mph fastballs and flashing a sharp curveball out of a three-quarters arm slot."
And so he made 53 appearances for the Bats in 2003 and '04. Then less than two years after becoming a full-time pitcher, Resop made his big league debut, throwing two-thirds of an inning for the Marlins on June 28, 2005.
He spent the 2005 and '06 seasons as an up-and-down reliever with the Marlins, appearing in 37 games for Florida and 83 down on the farm. In that time, he walked nearly six batters per nine innings in the big leagues while showing much finer control (2.8 walks per nine) for Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Albuquerque—not to mention a rate of one strikeout per inning.
Intrigued by his arm strength, the Angels traded Kevin Gregg to the Marlins
to acquire Resop in November 2006. But while Gregg notched 32 saves for the Fish in '07 (and 29 the next year), Resop endured his most frustrating season. He spent the first half with Triple-A Salt Lake and then landed on the disabled list with triceps tendinitis after making four early-July appearances in the big leagues. He did not return to the field that season.
The Angels could not sneak the recovering pitcher through waivers in the offseason, when they sought to remove him from the 40-man roster. The Braves pounced, claiming Resop in October 2007. But after running up a 5.89 ERA and walking 10 batters over 16 appearances, Atlanta designated him for assignment in June '08, sending him on another run through the waivers gauntlet. This time, Resop cleared and reported to Triple-A.
He got as far as the Richmond airport before he received a call that would alter his career.
"My agent (B.B. Abbott) called to say that a couple of teams from Japan had been calling," Resop said. " 'Should I tell them to go away?' he asked. I told him, 'No, I'm not opposed to anything.'
"So I went to Richmond and pitched for a couple weeks and threw well. The Japanese teams continued to pursue me—they were at every game for a few weeks. This all happened in the background for me. It was between my agent and them, but when the opportunity came around, I thought it was in my best interests to take the offer."
If he hadn't taken the offer, Resop faced the prospect of minor league life with minor league pay—not the comparatively posh lifestyle of a 40-man roster player. "That's not easy to do," he said, "not financially—and especially not with a family."
So with a contract in place, he flew to Japan to play for Hanshin, a Central League club that also had American pitchers Scott Atchison
and Ryan Vogelsong
on its roster. Incidentally, that duo also returned to the States this season, having signed on with the Red Sox and Phillies, respectively. They landed in the International League, where Resop caught up with both Atchison (Pawtucket) and Vogelsong (Lehigh Valley) during Gwinnett's recent Northern Division-intensive schedule.
While playing abroad, Resop made eight appearances for Hanshin in '08, four of them starts, but went just 0-2, 6.75 with six strikeouts and seven walks allowed in 21 1/3 innings. He pitched more effectively, if more sparingly, in '09, going 1-1, 5.21 in just 12 relief outings. He struck out 21 and walked six for a Tigers club that finished fourth out of six CL teams.
"I get the feeling that some people think that if you go over (to Japan), then they just write you off," Resop said. "But for some players, they go over there and they become driven to succeed. You face some challenges over there, but all in all it made me appreciate baseball over here more than I used to appreciate it.
"Because I pitched so little last year, I felt the game was being taken from me. Hey, I want to throw—but I had somebody telling me, 'Hey, you can't play.' I took the position that it would make me want to work that much harder."
But all in all, Resop appreciated the unique Nippon Professional Baseball experience, saying that he might consider going back later in his career.
"The way they treat the foreign players over there," he said, "you would think you're an all-time all-star. What? I just want to play baseball. They consider you almost a celebrity. They consider it an honor that you'd play there."
Back Home With The Braves
Released by Hanshin last October, Resop reached out to the Braves in the offseason, feeling that he had unfinished business with the organization. Atlanta's scouting reports indicated that the strong-armed righthander had improved both his offspeed stuff and pitchability while in Japan. So in January, they signed Resop to a minor league deal, one that would allow him to opt out on June 15 if he can find a guaranteed big league gig elsewhere.
While no one anticipated that Resop would enjoy such initial success as a starter, at least partial credit must go to Gwinnett pitching coach Derek Botelho, who remembers the first time he encountered Resop this spring.
"He and I were just talking about that the other day," Botelho said. "The first time he threw a side session, he had his head in his hands as he walked off. That's how he felt about the side. But Chris works very hard, and he got over the mental part. Now, he's going out there with confidence.
"People ask me what's he doing differently. Well, he's always been a guy with a lot of talent. Now, it's being utilized to get the best out of it. He's a total all-around pitcher."
Botelho credits Resop's resurgence to his new starter's regimen, which includes his rotation turn every fifth day, of course, but also his work on the sides.
"His fastball command has really sharpened up," Botehlo said, "and along with that it's brought to life his curveball and changeup. He changes speeds with his curveball, and that comes from the feel and touch of being out there. Early in the count, he might take a little bit off for a strike. But when he's ahead in the count, he can bury it to put the hitter away."
Resop's deuce ranges from the high 70s to the low 80s, depending on whether he opts for fast or slow. Similarly, he throws a two-seam and four-seam fastball for different effect. "When his back is against the wall, he relies on his true strength, his four-seam fastball," Botelho said.
The pitching coach described a situation in a recent start in which Resop threw a breaking ball in a three-ball count, only to issue a walk.
"I told him afterward, 'I'll take a chance on your 95 mile an hour fastball. If you make a mistake, then we're still only down two runs. That's not the mistake. The pitch selection was the mistake.' That was just a case of him over-analyzing and not relying on his strength."
Nothing could quite capture Botelho's satisfaction with his pupil's progress quite like his final, one-word assessment: pitcher.
"He's throwing stuff in the zone, giving himself a chance," the coach said, "where before he was more just a thrower. Now, he's thinking and analyzing hitters, making the pitches you look for."