By Ray Glier
Left-handed pitcher Tom Glavine was 22 when he lost 17 games for the Atlanta Braves in 1988. He had been a second-round pick of the Braves in 1984, the 47th player taken overall. The 1988 season was his first full season in the majors.
Aaron Blair was the 36th pick overall in the 2013 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is 24 and made 15 starts for the Braves in 2016.
Glavine got a chance to fail big, but it did not seem to scar him for the rest of his career. He is in the Hall of Fame after posting 305 career wins.
Blair, on the other hand, was shuffled to Class AAA Gwinnett (Lawrenceville, Ga.) to start the 2017 season as the Braves decided to sign two free agent starting pitchers in their 40s: Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey.
Should the Braves be allowing Blair to build some steel with 17 losses? Should he learn how to get big-league hitters out while the team is building for the future?
General manager John Coppolella scoffs at that idea.
“Our young pitchers will have to earn their opportunities,” he said. “We have the best young pitching in baseball coming, so our next line of pitchers will either figure it out or get passed over. … This is a meritocracy.
“Let’s see who earns this opportunity.”
The Braves think they have a pretty good lineup, so they added Colon and Dickey to try to get back on track after back-to-back seasons of 90-plus losses. In addition, they have moved into a new ballpark.
Does anybody want to see a rookie get tattooed in some starts at these prices?
Then again, a career could be launched in the first season of the park. Should Blair get a full-season crack at it?
“That’s a tough question,” Blair said. “They are trying to win. They did what they thought was the best way to have a winning team. I still get to come play professional baseball every day, whether it is here or there.
“You will definitely be mentally stronger if you go out there. The game is about adjustments; make your adjustments within five days of the next start.”
Blair made 15 starts in 2016 and was 2-7. In his last start of the season, against the Detroit Tigers, who were still fighting for the postseason, he pitched six innings and gave up two earned runs and struck out 10.
Two of his last three outings in 2016 were quality starts (at least six innings pitched, three earned runs or fewer), yet he started in the minor leagues in 2017.
In his first start of 2017, April 6, Blair was knocked around by Durham (N.C.), giving up eight hits and six runs in three innings. He recovered in his second start, April 11 vs. Norfolk (Va.), with five innings pitched, one run allowed, six strikeouts — and a win.
Matt Wisler, another young pitching prospect, has made 45starts in the big leagues. He also is at Gwinnett. Should Wisler have been given more consideration over one-year rentals Colon and Dickey?
Well, in a sign of maturity, Wisler, 24, found that easy to answer.
“I had two years to do it, that’s the thing,” Wisler said. “I had 45starts, and I just didn’t do it consistently enough.”
In his first start of the season, Wisler pitched five innings and was touched for four earned runs and struck out one.
Like Blair, Wisler recovered in his second start with six innings pitched, five hits allowed and one earned run and five strikeouts.
“They did what they thought was the best way to have a winning team. I still get to come play professional baseball every day.”
The manager of the Wichita Wingnuts is Pete Rose Jr. The manager of the Texas AirHogs is Billy Martin Jr.
If you are an independent league player, what better bloodlines to have on the bench lighting a fire under you?
Pete and Billy, the dads, were fierce competitors. They were both undersized, which is probably what a lot of independent players these days are accused of being. Rose and Martin excelled in the bigs … and against odds.
Here is another independent baseball role model: Kerry
Ligtenberg, the pitching coach of the St. Paul Saints. He came out of independent ball to become the closer for the Atlanta Braves. The right-hander saved 30 games in 34chances in 1998, when the Braves reached the National League Championship Series.
The Giant on deck: At some point, the nucleus of the San Francisco Giants will age out of being a World Series contender. The next wave of prospects for one of baseball’s top organizations is going to come along. That group should include Sacramento shortstop Christian Arroyo, rated as San Francisco’s No.2 prospect by MLB.com.
Arroyo (6-1, 180 pounds) was hitting .471 through games of April16 for the River Cats. He was a first-round pick in 2013. Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford is signed through 2021, so Arroyo likely is going to play more third base and perhaps second base in Class AAA.
The Giants’ top catching prospect is Aramis Garcia, who is playing advanced Class A for the San Jose Giants. Through Sunday, Garcia was hitting .351.
By the time Buster Posey is ready to move to first base for good, Garcia could be ready in the wings.
About the Cubbies: While on the subject of top organizations and their prospects, the Chicago Cubs’ Ian Happ continues to be on a tear for Iowa. He is the organization’s No.2 prospect and had five home runs in his first eight games in Class AAA. He has six homers in 11 games.
Happ was hitting .311 through Sunday with a .733 slugging percentage. He is a switch-hitter with a left-handed swing that covers the plate with power. His fifth home run came against a fastball that was ducking down and away. Happ hit it into the left-center-field bullpen. Pretty impressive.