GREENSBORO, N.C.—Nearly two years ago, Braxton Garrett was pitching a scoreless seventh inning in front 15,000 fans in the gold medal-clinching win for USA Baseball’s 18U National Team.
Since then, he’s been taken by the Marlins out of Florence (Ala.) High with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 draft and signed for a $4,145,000 bonus, but his only game action has come in front of a few diehard fans at minor league complexes on Florida’s east coast.
All that will change on Monday morning, when the lefthander will make his long-awaited professional debut in front an expected sellout at Greensboro’s First National Bank Field. Despite a 10:45 a.m. start, the fans are expected to be loud, raucous … and almost exclusively from the second grade as part of a promotion that donates all of the day’s tickets to local elementary schools.
None of that matters to Garrett, who is thrilled to finally be out of Florida and eager to take the first step in his professional career.
“It’s awesome. The first day here, it was just a relief, really,” he said. “I was really excited to be here and see all of the guys I was with in spring training. I’m excited to go compete (Monday).”
Garrett has been working in extended spring training on getting better at pitching out of the stretch as well as throwing his changeup more often and with more command. He never got into a game in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League after signing last season—what he dubbed as “a few aches and pains” kept setting him back—but he did throw bullpen sessions before something would stanch his progress and send him back to square one.
Understandably, that left Garrett chapped at not being out there with his new teammates. After taking the ball on one of the biggest stages baseball can offer an amateur, he was stuck on the sidelines waiting to fulfill the promise the Marlins saw. Even so, his experience hasn’t been a wash. He did pitch in minor league spring training before the rest of his teammates broke camp, and then some more in extended spring training.
“It’s been awesome. I’ve had a great time just competing,” he said. “It’s not high school anymore. I’ve faced great hitters every time and I’m learning from our coaches and even the players a lot too. It’s been awesome and a great experience.”
When he takes the ball on Monday opposite Rome’s Joey Wentz—a supplemental first-rounder whom the Braves drafted with the No. 40 overall pick last year—that experience will get a whole lot better. Even if very few of the fans at the game have a clue who he is.