Bryce Elder, Spencer Strider Continue Rapid Rise Together In Atlanta
SAN DIEGO—Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder formed a fast friendship when they first met at instructional league in the fall of 2020. The Braves fourth- and fifth-round picks that year, respectively, it wasn’t long before the two righthanders began talking about the day they’d be in the major leagues together.
That the day has finally come isn’t a surprise to either of them. What is a surprise is how quickly it happened.
Strider, 23, and Elder, 22, are both in the majors less than 12 months after making their professional debuts at the Class A levels last year. Strider, who made his major league debut at the end of last season, has become a key member of the Braves bullpen with eight strikeouts in 5.1 innings so far this season. Elder received his first big league callup earlier this week and won his first career start with 5.2 innings and three runs allowed against the Nationals. Strider has solidified his place in the Braves bullpen, and Braves manager Brian Snitker confirmed Thursday that Elder will remain with the big league club and get another start.
At this time last year, both were in minor league spring training without a professional inning to their names. Now, they’re full-fledged members of the defending World Champions’ pitching staff.
“We both, I don’t think, expected to be in the big leagues this fast,” said Strider, the Braves No. 3 prospect. “We’re both very, very happy that it worked out this way.”
Elder got only 26 innings as the Friday night starter for Texas before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the 2020 season. That was still more than Strider, who got only 12 innings at Clemson. The Braves drafted both on the promise they showed earlier in their careers, with the understanding that it would likely take time for both to make up for the lost development from the 2020 season.
Instead, Elder and Strider found ways to not only make up for that development, but accelerate it.
For Elder, that meant working out at the training facility APEC in Fort Worth, Texas, alongside a group of major and minor leaguers that included then-Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, veteran lefthander Derek Holland, Padres center fielder Trent Grisham and Royals top prospect Bobby Witt Jr.
With the work he put in that offseason alongside established professionals, Elder was able to go out and lead the entire minor leagues with 137.2 innings pitched in 2021 while rising to Triple-A—a remarkable feat given how little he pitched in 2020.
“2020 was a time where nobody was really doing anything as far as baseball goes, but it was a time where some people got better,” said Elder, the Braves No. 6 prospect. “People were built up and training and I was able to put together a good offseason in Fort Worth at APEC, and so just being as prepared as I can be was all I could do during that time. So I did that, handled my business and was able to throw a lot of innings last year.”
For Strider, it meant re-inventing his body. He missed all of 2019 after having Tommy John surgery, and the pandemic prevented him from logging the innings needed to get fully back up to game speed. In the absence of games, he worked on his conditioning, and by the time he was back on the mound in pro ball, he noticed a marked difference.
“Just focusing on my diet, working out, my physical shape, that kind of stuff,” Strider said. “When I got back to playing, those things had been improved and so I was in a better place.”
Soon enough, they were zipping up the minors together. Strider and Elder were teammates at High-A Rome, Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett together last year, ascending the minors at lightning quick rates. Elder finished 10th in the minors with 155 strikeouts while earning raves for a poise, maturity and feel for pitching well beyond his years. Strider was right behind him, finishing 12th in the minors with 153 strikeouts on the strength of a riding, 95-98 mph fastball that earned adjectives like “explosive” and “electric” from evaluators.
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With each responding well to every promotion and showing their stuff played against upper-level hitters, the Braves saw no reason to hold them down despite a past proclivity for letting pitchers amass innings in the minors. Strider earned his first big league promotion less than five months after making his professional debut at Low-A Augusta. Elder’s first big league promotion came just over 11 months after his pro debut at Rome.
“Just the ability,” Snitker said. “I mean, it’s a different time now as far as guys run(ning) through the minor leagues now where before they didn’t used to do that. They hit all the stops … That’s quite a rise.”
When Elder got the call from Braves farm director Ben Sestanovich telling him he was getting promoted to the big leagues this week, he described his emotions as “excited about it and ready to go.”
As the news of his promotion spread, he got another call from someone with the Braves: Strider.
“I was excited,” Strider said. “I knew there was a shot depending on how the bullpen was managed that we might need a guy for that sixth game and it was probably going to be him. I talked to him that night when he got called up and I was really thrilled.”
After meteoric rises through the minor leagues together, Strider and Elder are now in Atlanta together. They’re a long way from instructional league and A-ball, now surrounded by the comforts of big league life playing in stadiums full of 40,000-plus fans.
It’s been a surreal rise for both, and one made even better by going through it together.
“There’s been a few moments we’ve talked about it, riding a plane instead of a bus, that kind of stuff,” Strider said, smiling. “So yeah, we’re both very grateful.”