By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Brandon Beachy, Starting Pitcher, Atlanta Braves
2011 season: 25 G, 141.2 IP, 7-3, 3.68 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 169 K, 46 BB
Coming up through the minors, Beachy was never a favorite of scouts. Even now, he still isn’t. He doesn’t have a blazing fastball or a knee-buckling curveball, and that’s why he was never a highly touted prospect despite putting up strong numbers throughout his professional career. Soon, though, scouts might have to admit they just missed on Beachy.
After leading the minor leagues (and, in fact, all of professional baseball) with a 1.73 ERA in 2010, Beachy earned the Braves’ fifth starter role out of Spring Training and pitched like an ace throughout the year. Though he doesn’t have any one devastating pitch, he has a deep arsenal – fastball, cutter, slider, curveball, changeup – and a good amount of deception in his delivery. Using that repertoire, Beachy led the Majors in strikeout rate among pitchers who tossed at least 140 innings. Even so, he posted a lower walk rate than Tim Lincecum and Jon Lester, who are widely considered true No. 1 starters.
The biggest question about Beachy heading into the season is simply whether he can do it again. Pitchers frequently perform above their talent level in their first run through the league, especially ones that rely on deception. Beachy has a track record of outperforming expectations, though, which is a good sign going forward. So is the fact that his numbers were so good last year – pitchers can perform well as rookies because opposing hitters aren’t used to them, but rarely do pitchers perform that well.
One area that Beachy does need to improve is his ability to pitch deep into games. All those strikeouts led the high pitch counts, and as a result, he only made it past six innings in three of his 25 starts. Though wins and losses aren’t generally good ways to judge pitchers, the fact that Beachy only garnered 10 decisions in all those starts underscores his lack of endurance. The Braves had an incredible bullpen last year, which helped to mitigate the effect of Beachy’s short starts, but that’s not something he can keep up throughout his career.
Still, that’s only a minor quibble with Beachy’s otherwise strong game. While his rate stats probably won’t be at quite the same level this year as they were in 2011, the 25-year-old nonetheless has a good chance at posting strikeout numbers that rank among the best in the Majors. He might not be what scouts traditionally consider to be an ace, but he has an opportunity this year to firmly establish himself as a top-of-the-rotation starter. If Beachy can go 200 innings for the Braves, he could end up as one of the league’s most valuable pitchers.
Next up on March 22: Chicago Cubs