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A.J. Achter Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 18

AJ Achter Getty
A.J. Achter (Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)

“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.

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To make it to the big leagues as a 46th-round draft pick (a round that hasn’t even existed since 2012), one needs some edge. That climb to the show is near-impossible without some moxie, a little toughness, and a fair amount of determination to persevere in difficult circumstances.

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As the son of a former NFL player and high school football coach, who grew up playing cold-weather baseball, A.J. Achter was built to have the perseverance that a late-round pick needs.

A multi-sport athlete from just outside of Toledo, Achter gravitated toward baseball during his junior year of high school. With a 6-foot-5 frame and arm strength built from playing quarterback, Achter excelled on the mound, but never considered heading to warmer pastures when it came to playing college ball, instead driving just north to Michigan State.

“When you grow up in the Midwest, especially when you’re a football guy…the Big 10 is the gold standard,” Achter said. “My first visit [to Michigan State] was College Gameday between Penn State and Michigan State.”

The cold temperatures of East Lansing were nothing new for Achter, and focusing exclusively on baseball allowed his stuff to tick up enough to secure a spot as the Spartans’ Sunday starter as a freshman. By his junior year, Achter had slid into the Friday starter role and was looking toward turning in a stellar junior season and securing a solid draft position. An inconsistent year on the hill threw a wrench into those plans. Achter fell so far in the 2010 draft that he stopped paying attention to the incoming selections.

“I went home and the draft was still going on and I went and took a nap, I was so frustrated,” Achter said. “I was actually taking a nap when I got drafted.”

While his long draft wait might’ve been ended by the Twins, his route to the pro ranks was delayed a bit longer. Achter and the Twins weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on terms until late in the summer, after his solid performance in the Cape Cod League. He put pen to paper and started an Everest-like climb to reach The Show as the No. 1,395 overall pick.

A move to the bullpen during his second pro season accelerated that climb. A few years into his professional career, Achter was no longer the late-round, cold-weather big league longshot—he was an all-star at three levels of the minor leagues, Arizona Fall League participant, and durable reliever knocking on the door to Minneapolis.   

Achter ended up defying his 46th-rounder odds and broke into the big leagues in 2014. However, over the next few years he learned that pitching in MLB is tough, and dealing with the business side of the game is even tougher.

He struggled to gain a consistent foothold in Minnesota, and after multiple trips between AAA and MLB, he ended up on waivers in the 2015 offseason. He was first claimed by the Phillies, who then also attempted to pass him through waivers, only to have him claimed by the Angels.

In his lone season with the Angels, Achter was able to put together his biggest chunk of big league innings with 37.2—albeit while being shuffled in-between Los Angeles and AAA Salt Lake numerous times throughout the season. He compiled a career-low 3.11 ERA, but also a career-low strikeout-per-nine rate, which sent him in search of a job during the winter of 2016.

Signing with his childhood favorite team, the Detroit Tigers, seemed like a dream come true. He planned on spending the 2017 season either in Detroit or pitching in his hometown at Triple-A Toledo. Instead, a roster crunch left him disappointed in Double-A Erie, before being released. Less than a year later, Achter hung up his spikes and jumped right into coaching.

Now, those same experiences are what Achter gets to relay to young players as the pitching coach at Eastern Michigan University. A decade ago he was in their shoes—freezing his tail off pitching Division 1 baseball at a northern school, and trying to figure out his path in the game.

On the latest episode From Phenom to the Farm, former big league pitcher and current pitching coach at Eastern Michigan University, A.J. Achter joins to discuss his career. He talks cold weather baseball, the life of a bullpen guy in the minor leagues, and going from long-shot to big leaguer.

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