In yesterday’s announcement of non-(40-man)-roster players that the Braves have invited to join them in the Major League camp, there’s an interesting name: Jason Hursh.
Jason Brewster Hursh is the Braves’ most recent 1st round draft pick, taken 31st just this past June as the compensation pick for losing Michael Bourn to free agency a year ago. Now 22, he was originally taken as a high schooler in 2010 by the Pirates in Round 6, but (obviously) didn’t sign with them at the time. A Texas native, he went to Oklahoma State, compiling a 6-5 record in 2013 with a 2.79 ERA, 86 K’s and 28 walks. He was their workhorse as well, logging 106 innings over 16 games – with three complete games among them. It’s probably for that reason that the Braves didn’t work him very hard during the Summer: 27 innings at Rome spread over 9 starts… with a 0.67 ERA. TomahawkTake has ranked him third on our newest Top 30 prospects list.
Okay, so he’s had just 9 pro starts in Low-A Ball…
…so why is he going to the major league camp? And why isn’t somebody like maybe the #1 guy – Lucas Sims – getting to go?
Good questions. First let’s look at Sims.
Lucas Sims is something of a prodigy: still only 19 years old. As such, the Braves are carefully moving forward with him. Last year he posted a 2.62 ERA at Rome with almost 117 innings, 134 K, and 46 walks… with just 83 hits allowed. A solid performance. Hursh and Sims crossed paths in Rome during the Summer as well. Sims is ready to move up, but because of his age, Atlanta is apparently content to allow him to do so at his own pace. It is likely that he’ll start the year in Lynchburg, but then we’ll see how things progress from there. He is clearly the class of the system, as John Sickels wrote, and I imagine that next year this time, he’ll get that Spring invite.
Jason Hursh, however, is on a bit of a different path. He has already done the college thing, already had his Tommy John surgery (2011-2012), already rehabbed it, and already returned to full duty with his power arm. And he’s already 22. His ‘time’ is going to be happening more quickly than that of Sims, and he needs to get a few things together – on a more accelerated pace. Quoting Sickels again: “he needs to refine his secondary pitches to go with the hard sinker.” That – and working with the major league staff to learn their routines – can best be done in the major league camp.
How do I know this? Because it happened just last year with Alex Wood. Let’s compare and contrast:
A year ago, Alex Wood had just turned 21. He had been drafted in the 2nd round of 2012 – just behind Sims – out of the University of Georgia. In 2012, he threw 53 innings for Rome. Then he received a Spring invite. Sounds kind of like this Hursh story above.
But at the time, baseballamerica.com had the follow take on Alex:
He does a good job of working off his heater, then destroys hitters’ timing with his above-average changeup. He can fall in love too much with his changeup at times. Scouts have two concerns with Wood: his breaking ball and mechanics. He struggles to throw his below-average slider for strikes and may need a better third pitch in order to remain a starter.
Okay, we know about his mechanics – a bit unconventional (kids, don’t try this at home… or in a game), but it works for him. But what about that need for a breaking pitch? Well, check this:
The real story is that Wood has finally found a formidable breaking pitch. Atlanta invited Wood to Major League Spring Training, and in camp, Wood adopted the same knuckle curve thrown by Braves relievers Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.
As Wood says below, the pitch immediately became the best breaking ball he’s ever thrown, and he’s thrown it regularly this year while dominating the Southern League.
We know the rest of this story: Alex was called up at the end of May, and thus far Atlanta hasn’t seen a reason to send him back down. Huh. I guess there’s a method to the Braves’ madness. They find ‘em, refine ‘em, and they tend to perform.
Welcome to Disney, Jason: it’s gonna be a fun ride… and you’ve got excellent help available. Evidently, the Braves are not wasting time with their high-upside college draftees.