Hard work key to Beachy's unlikely success
Undrafted out of college, righty leads big leagues with 1.98 ERA
ATLANTA -- Brandon Beachy soaked in the feeling as he walked off the mound after the best game of his young Major League career, a five-hit shutout against the Marlins on May 17. He had never thrown a complete game before, even in the Minor Leagues, and now 27,724 fans at Turner Field were standing and cheering for him.
Beachy's career had begun with almost no expectations. He was an undrafted free agent who had mostly been a third baseman at a small college in Indiana. Beachy's journey to Turner Field that night had been almost impossibly long, but this was a moment to savor.
"It felt really good," Beachy said. "That was a lot of fun."
The next day, however, Beachy was back to work. Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who has pitched with Beachy since their professional careers began in 2008 at Danville in the Appalachian League, said it has always been that way.
"He felt like there were things he could do better," Kimbrel said. "I think that's what makes him so good. He's always trying to get better."
Beachy's endless quest to improve has led him along the improbable path from being discovered by Braves scout Gene Kerns while pitching in the Virginia Valley League -- a college summer league -- after his junior year at Indiana Wesleyan. Three years after Kerns unearthed him, Beachy was pitching for the Braves. And now, two seasons later, Beachy leads the Major Leagues with a 1.98 ERA some 10 weeks into the season. The 25-year-old has become the Braves' most dependable pitcher, amassing 63 strikeouts and 28 walks in 77 1/3 innings this season.
Beachy's ascension to the top of the Major League leader board has been so unlikely, even Beachy wouldn't have believed it as a senior in high school -- a time for big dreams and bigger bravado.
But Beachy thought he knew better. He was a third baseman at Northwestern High School in Kokomo, Ind., and pitched a little on the side. Ryan Berryman, his high school coach, wanted Beachy to pitch more, but elbow tendonitis limited him to 25 2/3 innings as a senior. Still, Berryman thought Beachy had a future in college and tried to convince some Division I universities to give him a chance.
"I thought he'd go to college and have a good run at it," Berryman said. "I thought he could be an all-conference third baseman, maybe play in independent ball."
There were no takers. Beachy said the lack of interest was simple.
"I wasn't that good," he said.
He was good enough to play in the Indiana North-South All-Star Game in 2005. In a contest that featured future Major League pitchers Lance Lynn, Josh Lindblom and Tommy Hunter, Beachy was far from the main attraction. But playing third base for the North team, Beachy singled off Hunter and lined out to third base against Lynn.
Beachy said he thought Lynn, Hunter and Lindblom were headed for the Major Leagues one day. But himself?
So Beachy went to Indiana Wesleyan, where he played third base and pitched occasionally. But even there he was overshadowed. His teammate Brandon Moore attracted the scouts' attention and was drafted by the Mets in the 14th round in 2008.
Beachy wasn't picked. He headed to the Virginia Valley League to work on pitching with the hopes of doing better in his senior year. But early in the summer, something clicked. All of a sudden he discovered a sharp curveball he could pair with his low-90s fastball.
Kerns happened to see Beachy and quickly moved to sign him. Berryman said Beachy called him the day after he talked to Kerns to let him know what was happening. Berryman was as surprised as anyone.
"Within six weeks or two months, he went from getting roughed up in his junior year to where he has Minor League-ready stuff," Berryman said. "It's remarkable how that developed for him."
From there, Beachy went to Danville and began to shoot through the Minor Leagues. He played at three levels in 2009, and in '10 he went from Double-A in April to making his Major League debut in September against the Phillies. Along the way, Beachy collected the Braves' Minor League Pitcher of the Year award.
Pitching coach Roger McDowell said the first time he met Beachy was when the young righty was in Atlanta to pick up the award.
"And then three weeks later I saw him in Philadelphia," McDowell said.
While Beachy's fast-track to success has been unexpected, McDowell said he thought during this past Spring Training that Beachy was as capable as any of the Braves' starters of leading the Major Leagues in ERA.
"He's worked hard and he continues to work hard, as all the other guys do," McDowell said. "It doesn't surprise me that he's that guy, no."
Kimbrel said Beachy's work ethic, apparent from Day 1 in Danville, has carried him all the way to the Major Leagues.
"I remember the day he showed up," Kimbrel said. "You could tell then that he was a hard worker. He's always been one of the hardest workers on every team we've played on.
"He learned how to pitch and he hasn't looked back since."
Teddy Cahill is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.