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A couple of Rome Braves stars are making adjustments

ROME, GA – Baseball is all about adjustments. Talent gets you signed, and the ability to adjust is what keeps you there. The best players are constantly adjusting and constantly developing.

You see, they’re adjusting to the adjustments made towards them. The opposition is always adjusting to the enemy’s adjustments. Baseball is a mind game of constantly adjusting. And in the end, those who adjust better than the opposition prevail.

Developing players sort of goes hand in hand with adjusting. Developing a player to adjust better is just as crucial to developing said player’s curveball or slugging.

This aspect of the game is what makes watching minor league baseball so much fun. When you go to a Low-A baseball game, every guy on the field was the best of the best from whatever town or high school they came from. And up until this point in their baseball journeys, they’ve only had to rely on their raw talent.

Then they get to rookie ball or Low-A ball and the skill of adjusting and developing that raw talent kicks into high gear. The guys who are coachable and moldable move up the latter, and those who can’t adjust fizzle out. And, the one’s who can’t are the majority. Consider this – 25% of 2010’s first-round draft class is already out of baseball. Baseball is not easy.

Adjusting and developing talent is what makes our sport superior to many other sports. There’s no farm system in football or basketball. Baseball is so difficult developmentally that there are several levels a player has to jump through, once signed, in order to play at the coveted Major League level.

A couple of guys I’ve had the pleasure of watching first hand this year in Rome are adjusting and developing and it’s paying off.

Going into the season, here in Rome, two of the biggest names were Austin Riley and Touki Toussaint. Both young prospects started off the year on a bad foot, to say the least.

Because the big club is certainly struggling this season, it seems that all eyes are on the Atlanta Braves farm system. This, coupled with the usage of Twitter these days, have put a giant magnifying glass over the farm and over the performances of each individual player like never before. And because of this, when promising guys like Touki and Riley started off the year struggling, they were met with frustration from fans.

In regards to Austin Riley, it’s important to note that every other organization was scouting the young 18-year-old as a pitcher. Riley had a very respectable 95 mph fastball and was already committed to bringing his pitching talents to Mississippi State, where his father was a star punter. Then, after seeing him hit and noticing his large frame, the Braves drafted him as third baseman.

So, when Riley struggled out of the gate in Rome this year, it really wasn’t completely surprising. He had played third base before, but never full time.

During Riley’s first season of pro ball, he hit for a combined .304 with a .389 OBP and a .544 slugging percentage in 60 rookie-league games, and racked up 12 home runs in just 252 plate appearances. So, coming into Rome, he was expected to continue on a similar trajectory.

Then April hit and Riley started off slow, hitting just .247 with a .272 OBP. May wasn’t too much better – .237 with a .308 OBP. But once May was coming to a close, Riley seemed to make some adjustments and became slightly more patient at the plate. In June, he’s hitting .272 with a .323 OBP.

Over Austin Riley’s last 10 games, he’s batting .297 and he’s got the second most doubles by a third baseman in the South Atlantic League (18) on the season. His strikeouts seem to go down each month, while his batting average and on-base continue to go up. His power is certainly still questionable, but he’s still only 19.

Touki Toussaint has a similar story this year in Rome, but probably a bit more extreme. He didn’t just start off slow, he started off struggling immensely. And because of that, his turnaround thus far might be more substantial.

Touki is probably under more of a social-media-Braves-fan-microscope than Austin Riley, just because Touki was a first-round draft pick, and in an organization that’s rebuilding around pitching, he’s a key piece to the puzzle.

Touki had a 9.19 ERA in the month of April. Batters were hitting a whopping .323 off of him and things were not looking promising. His struggles carried on into May, but around the middle of month, it was like Touki hit the reset switch.

On May 10th, I spoke with Touki about some of his adjustments and he said that he was really focusing on his fastball command. And working on his fastball command was exactly what he did. And the payoff has been tremendous.

During the month of June, Touki has a 0.45 ERA. In 20 innings pitched this month, Touki has 18 strikeouts and batters are only hitting .143 off of  him. His last three starts look like this – 1 ER on 10 hits in 20 IP, 4 BB and 18 K.

Braves Country should still be very excited about both of these highly touted prospects. They’re showing us why the Braves signed them in the first place. And don’t forget – baseball’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Cover photo by Jeff Morris.

 

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