For a lot of players on the Danville Braves, this past week has been their first taste of professional baseball. Some players have a year or two under their belts, but the 2018 draft picks by the Atlanta Braves are making the transition from their college teams to the pro level.
It can be a stressful time, but the Braves were able to bounce back from an opening day loss to win back-to-back extra inning games in walk-off fashion on Wednesday and Thursday this week.
Not a bad way to get your professional career going, just ask 2018 10th round draft pick Brett Langhorne, out of Carson-Newson University, who hit the walk-off single to give the Braves their first win of the season on Wednesday night.
“It’s not bad,” Langhorne said with a grin this week. “I was just trying to put it in play somewhere and I ended up putting it in play in just a good spot. It was pretty cool to get one of the first hits as a walk-off.”
On Thursday, it wasn’t a walk-off hit, but 2018 second round draft pick Greyson Jenista dropped down a sacrifice bunt in the 10th inning, which led to the game-winning run coming in to score.
“Getting that bunt down was kind of big for us,” said Jenista, an outfielder out of Wichita State. “My job is to do something every day to help this team win.”
But just getting to the facility for the first time as professional baseball players is an experience for these guys. On the surface, the vibe around the facility is different than some expected it to be.
“First of all, it’s a dream come true,” said Justin Dean, a 2018 17th round pick out of Lenoir-Rhyne. “It’s kind of a little more laid back than I thought it would be. You know what’s expected of you. You come out here and you have a plan to go through. You just get your work done at a certain pace, but it’s cool. It’s a lot of freedom.”
“It’s been cool,” said Andrew Moritz, a sixth round pick this season out of UNC-Greensboro. “Just getting a chance to meet some of these guys that have been drafted and have been part of the organization and just seeing what pro ball is about.”
Moritz said that the freedom is something that he’s getting adjusted to. It’s not the same as in college.
“That’s probably the hardest part so far because they really just make you figure it out on your own. They aren’t babying you through anything,” he said.
Dean and Langhorne both came from the Division II ranks before making their professional debuts last week. The biggest difference between college and pro ball for them? The pitching.
“Obviously you don’t see the pitching at the D-II level that you see here,” Langhorne said.
“Big velocity change from D-II to pro ball and these guys can control a lot of their pitches in different counts,” Dean said. “But I think I’m doing all right right now.”
That might be an understatement. Through three games, Dean hit a team-high .583 (7-for-12). Jenista on the other hand went just 2-for-12 in his first three games in Danville. But he’s not too concerned with that.
“I’m not a big statistics guy. I’m not big into the stat line. As long as I have quality at bats and I do something every day to help this team win it’s a good day for me,” Jenista said.
The other thing Jenista is blind to is any perceived pressure of being a second round draft pick.
“I was lucky enough to be taken with the Braves’ second pick, but I think that you put more of the pressure on yourself than others,” Jenista said. “I don’t really feel it. I’m here with all the guys and we’re just trying to win ball games.”
Moritz agreed with Dean and Langhorne about the adjustments he needed to make at the plate at this level.
“I’d say the biggest difference is being more aggressive at the plate,” Moritz said. “At UNCG I could work the count a little more because I knew the pitcher’s stuff wasn’t going to be as great, whereas here the pitchers are all throwing 91, 93, maybe even harder… you’ve got to be aggressive early in the count because they can put you away with some better off-speed pitches.”
The first series is now behind them, and with it the Braves most recent draft picks all now have some experience at this level.
Now the key they said is build off of it.
“Just know that I’ve got my feet under me now and played a couple of games. Now it’s just normal. Now it’s just going with the flow,” Dean said.
“Just trying to slow the game down,” Langhorne said. “You know your abilities. You know you’re a good player. That’s why you’re here, so if you have a bad at bat or something like that just let it go.”
And for a group of young guys to come back after an opening day loss to win a three-game series, that builds a lot of confidence as well.
“It’s hard to lose the first game of the season, but after that we come back and have two extra inning walk-off wins. I think that’s a testament to the team, the guys in that clubhouse,” Jenista said.
The Braves are in Princeton for three games, then will be in Burlington for two on Monday and Tuesday before returning home Thursday night to face Elizabethton for three games back in Danville.