August 29, 2010 at 6:00 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
It’s hard to find a more interesting story in all of minor league baseball than that of Brandon Beachy. Signed as a non-drafted free agent out of Indiana Wesleyan University in 2008, Beachy spent the first two years of his professional career splitting time between starting and relieving, largely flying under the radar due to a non-existent pedigree and middling strikeout rates in the lower minors. He got a call up to AA at the end of 2009 with an eye on 2010, but only pitched 1 inning for the Mississippi Braves that year. This year he started the year out of the Mississippi bullpen, where he posted a 2.54 FIP (49 K’s, 14 BB’s, 1 HR) in 40 innings. At that point, the blogosphere started to notice, and almost on cue he was moved to the Mississippi rotation, where in 6 starts he was even more dominant, posting a 2.14 FIP (51 K’s, 8 BB’s, 2 HR) in 35 and 1/3 innings. His all around excellence at Mississippi–specifically in the rotation–earned him a call up to class AAA Gwinnett, where he’d posted a 2.67 ERA, a 0.98 WHIP, and a 35-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio entering today’s game (being used as a starter). So a non-drafted free agent reliever convert becomes a dominant starter at AAA after just a bit more than two years of professional baseball, you probably wouldn’t find a story like this anywhere but with the Braves.
In this regard, the reliever convert, out of nowhere aspect of his story, he reminds me a lot of Kris Medlen. Physically, he couldn’t be any more different than Medlen. Listed at 6’3″, 215 LB, Beachy looks more like an Olympic swimmer than a baseball player. The best word I can use to describe him would be ‘strong’, the best two would be ‘incredibly strong’. With ripped biceps and forearms, broad shoulders, and slim hips, his physicality is somewhat reminiscent of current Brave Kyle Farnsworth. He has very little body fat and he’s one of the more impressive physical specimens I’ve seen.
His upper body strength allows him to generate plus velocity without sacrificing movement or utilizing much hip/shoulder separation. His fastball sat 89-90 in the first inning, then 91-93–touching 94 when he needed to–for the rest of the outing. His fastball had some sink and fade, but it wasn’t a true sinker by any means. It wasn’t a terribly hot day, but he did a very good job of holding his velocity and movement throughout his six frames. His best pitch is his fastball, but his repertoire also includes a solid-average change up and a fringe-average curve ball.
The change up featured pristine fastball separation at 81-84 MPH and had some fade. He had no trouble spotting it and used it as an effective out pitch both in the zone and below the knees. He generated several swing-and-misses with the change and relied on it heavily during the middle innings when his fastball/curve ball weren’t all there.
His curve ball comes in at 76-79. He threw two versions of the pitch, one featuring heavy bite that he used almost exclusively as a chase pitch, and one that didn’t move nearly as much but he was able to command much better. The hitters were mostly able to pick up on the 12-6 version of his curve. He uses a lot of hand/wrist action to generate the break, and I wonder if it will be a useful weapon against major leaguers. The other one featured a good amount of deception, but lacked the type of bite or velocity that would typically characterize a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch.
Regarding his mechanics, I don’t like them one bit. His delivery is, in a word, inefficient. It features a long initial stride (good), but beyond that he generates almost all of his velocity from his arm, rather than properly rotating his hips and shoulders in sequence. There’s little separation between the phases of his delivery, which means he has to use a lot of arm effort to throw as hard as he does. The arm strength is definitely there, but it doesn’t have to be this way. By more profoundly separating the phases of his delivery he could throw just as hard–if not harder–and decrease his risk of arm injuries. Still, there’s nothing in his delivery that will prohibit him from being successful in the major leagues. Many players have had extremely successful careers with inefficient deliveries like Beachy’s.
His command was generally good and he did a good job of throwing strikes all day, despite being squeezed some of the time and being victimized by awful defense (Luis Bolivar being the primary culprit). He’s a fly ball pitcher, but not overly so, and he helped his cause a lot today by inducing several pop ups. He worked quickly and maintained an intimidating presence on the mound, never letting the shoddy defense or a bad pitch get to him.
All things considered, I think we’re looking at a #4 starter, here. If the curve ball improves, he could probably be a #3 or a #2, but right now the sum of his abilities gives him a great shot at being a productive back-end starter despite the lack of a true swing-and-miss offering. He’s the type of player fans will like a lot, in that he won’t beat himself and seems like a hard worker with excellent make up. Much like Medlen, he hasn’t worked up to 200 innings a season yet. He’s currently at 113 and 1/3 on the year, which shatters his pro career high. If he can’t build up his stamina enough to go for 200 innings a year, he’ll probably have to settle for a middle-relief role, because he doesn’t have late-game stuff at the moment. I don’t think durability will be as much of a problem for Beachy as it has been for Kris Medlen, because Beachy has a significant advantage in both size and strength. Regardless, Beachy is a great story and another illustration of the Braves’ miracle-working player development department, they certainly deserve a standing round of applause for this one.