Braves' Free Agent-Find Beachy Shows All-Star Stuff

The Double-A Mississippi Braves kicked around the idea of trying relief ace Brandon Beachy in the rotation. The 23-year-old righthander had struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings, more than any other Southern League reliever. Furthermore, his 6-foot-3, 215-pound build and three-pitch repertoire suggested he could find success as a starter.

The Braves saw two obstacles to the move, the first being that to accommodate Beachy, they had to displace a pitcher already in the Mississippi rotation. And secondly, Beachy had produced just mediocre results while working as a starter in high Class A last season, going 1-3, 4.50 in eight starts for Myrtle Beach.

A third obstacle could have interfered with such a move, too, if Beachy had not proven himself one of the organization's hardest workers. The Indiana Wesleyan product signed with the Braves as a nondrafted free agent two years ago, after all 30 teams passed over the junior in the 2008 draft.

So when the Braves, in mid-June, sent lefty Richard Sullivan to the bullpen, to help him get back on track, they seized the opportunity to install Beachy in the rotation. This time he did not disappoint.

In four starts from June 18 to July 5, Beachy went 2-0, 0.72 with 31 strikeouts, five walks and just 13 hits allowed over 25 innings. Two of his starts ended after seven shutout innings.

"The main thing I like about starting is the routine," he said. "When I go to work out, I can do my long toss and my running and not have to worry about pitching that day or the day after."

All-Star Stuff

Factoring in his 21 relief appearances for Mississippi this season, Beachy's overall record stands at 3-1, 1.13 with an 80-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 64 innings.

A scout who saw Beachy in one of his recent starts praised the righthander for his athleticism, pitchability and command. And his stuff wasn't half bad either: low- to mid-90s heat and two quality secondary pitches.

Beachy ranges from 90-94 mph, sitting comfortably at the high end of that range in relief and getting a few ticks higher on occasion. Best of all he does it easy. And for a pitcher who has worked mostly in relief, he shows outstanding feel for his curveball and changeup.

"In college I threw just fastball/slider," Beachy said. "I just started throwing my curveball last year, though kind of more as a joke than a serious thing.

"I'd mess around with it in practice, but then as the year went on, I started just flipping it in there at the beginning of the count to get ahead. With practice, it has come around."

But for Beachy, the name of the game remains power.

"My best pitch is definitely the fastball," he said. "If I can control that, move it in and out and get ahead of hitters, it really sets me up to use my offspeed stuff."

Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Southern League all-star game on July 12. Beachy contributed a perfect third inning, striking out two of the three batters he faced, including the opposition's Nos. 3 and 4 hitters. He retired West Tenn slugger Johan Limonta swinging and 11-year minor league veteran Corey Smith looking to end the frame.

"You always remember the showdowns with the big guys," said Beachy, who threw eight of his 12 pitches for strikes while throwing predominantly fastballs. By his recollection, he threw one curveball and two changeups.

Found In The Valley

Beachy played mostly third base and served as closer for NAIA Indiana Wesleyan in his three years there. As a junior, he hit .296/.406/.475 in 162 at-bats, but he says he does not regret giving up the position player's life.

"I loved hitting, but I struggled with it," he said. "It was fun when you do well, but when you don't, it was so frustrating."

That same junior year Beachy appeared in 13 games as a pitcher, starting three times, but he ran up a 6.33 ERA over 27 innings. Most of that damage came in a disastrous Feb. 16 start in which he gave up nine runs in an inning and a third. In his two other starts, he threw seven-inning complete games as part of doubleheaders.

Even with the inflated ERA, Beachy still managed 34 strikeouts, seven walks and did not allow a home run—all hinting at his potential. He worked around a biceps strain and shoulder tendinitis, but for a college junior his arm had seen significantly fewer miles than other pitchers his age.

Braves area scout Gene Kerns saw Beachy's potential in July 2008 when he scouted the Valley League, a summer collegiate circuit based in Virginia. 

"I was sitting through the ninth inning," Kerns said, "when Brandon comes out in relief. I guess he was their closer. After a pitch or two this guy really woke me up, not only with his fastball and breaking ball—he had a solid-average curveball then—but most importantly, the kid had great mechanics. His arm worked really well."

Kerns approached Beachy after the game to ask if he'd been drafted. Beachy said he hadn't, so Kerns asked the Woodstock manager to work the young righthander for an inning again the next night. He obliged.

At the same time, Kerns got on the phone to Braves scouting director Roy Clark, telling him that the organization simply must sign Beachy. "That was a Friday night, as I recall," Kerns said. "By Sunday we had him going to Danville to sign his contract."

"It didn't take a brain surgeon to see that Brandon has a lot inside of him," he said. "He's a wonderful kid."

Beachy accepted the Braves' offer, which included money to pay for remaining college tuition, and has developed immensely since turning pro.

He grew up as one of seven siblings—five brothers—in Kokomo, Ind., and impressed Kerns when he said, "I had my chores to do, and I did them." So in his typical blue-collar, down-to-earth fashion, Beachy is not inclined to take all the credit for his breakout year.

"The success I've had this year, I contribute a lot of that to the coaches who've worked with me," he said. "And without the solid defense I've had around me, I wouldn't have same results."