Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Julio Teheran is the top prospect in the Braves organization. The pitcher from Colombia will start Friday for the G-Braves.
LAWRENCEVILLE —English is not Julio Teheran’s top skill. Actually, it’s probably not in his top five. But during a media interview and speaking through a translator this week, Teheran did some translation of his own.
As he outlined the pitches he uses, the translator needed to ask for the word in English from Teheran.
The 20-year-old grinned and said, “Fastball.”
THE TEHERAN FILE
Who: Julio Teheran
Position: Right-handed pitcher
Born: Cartagena, Colombia
• Rated the top prospect in the Atlanta Braves’ organization
• Named top pitcher in the organization by the Braves in 2010
• Went 9-8 with a 2.59 ERA in 24 starts last season split between the Rome Braves, Myrtle Beach Pelicans and Mississippi Braves
• Struck out 159 batters and walked just 40 last season
• Member of the World Team in the Futures Game during the All-Star break
“Fastball is the general (pitch),” the translator finished.
It’s a good word to know for the Colombia native, whose fastball sits in the mid-90s. He also works in a change-up and uses his hard-breaking curveball as an out-pitch.
“He has the stuff, it’s a matter of him going through (the year in Class AAA),” said first-year Braves pitching coach Marty Reed. “I expect that he’ll throw well here.”
So do the rest of the Braves’ organization.
With only three professional seasons, including a short season with the rookie-league Danville Braves, Teheran’s rise is beyond accelerated. It’s exponential.
Compare him to the previous top pitching prospect to come through Gwinnett, Tommy Hanson. Hanson didn’t make Class AAA until he was 23 years old and had been a professional for four seasons, and that included 18 games with Class AA Mississippi.
The most games Teheran has pitched at any level was 10 last season in high-A Myrtle Beach before finishing the year with seven starts in Mississippi.
“I have always worked hard to get to this point, but I have always been in double-A (or below) so it was a surprise to make it to triple-A,” he said through his translator.
The assignment surprised, but after his spring in both major league and minor league camps, Teheran made the early promotion an easy choice.
“The way he is working in between (appearances) and the way he’s pitching are the things you like to see for a mature and developing pitching,” said Braves director of player development Kurt Kemp. “His stuff has always been good. He is learning how to use it and how to use it to get hitters out.”
Through three levels of minor league baseball last year, Teheran went 9-8 with a 2.59 ERA, striking out 159 with just 40 walks. The 159 K’s ranked second-best in the organization. He was named pitcher of the month while with the Rome Braves and Myrtle Beach Pelicans, pitched 52⁄3 innings of a combined no-hitter with Mississippi, played in the Futures Game during the All-Star break and made Baseball America’s minor league All-Star team.
All those honors bumped the pitcher up to the prestigious organization’s top-prospect status entering this season. And with that designation comes expectations and excitement.
“It is not so much that it is pressure, but it’s motivation,” Teheran said. “Now that I know that everybody is watching me I am motivated to do my very best.”
His best should be on display for much, if not all, of the Gwinnett Braves’ season. There are plenty of veteran pitchers to whom the Braves will turn first if needed, and his grooming is the highest priority. Even the most talented and fastest studies need time and experience.
“Just the way he handled himself in double-A and the way he handled himself in major league camp, there was no reason he couldn’t start here,” said Reed, who coached Teheran last year in Mississippi.
Having Reed with him in Gwinnett is a small comfort to Teheran, who said he trusts the veteran pitching coach and former Dodgers’ minor league pitching coordinator.
“He has always been a mentor to me and has helped me along the way,” Teheran said.
Teheran looks young and in front of questioning strangers speaks softly. He may welcome the expectations, but the attention from a foreign-speaking horde cools a smoldering confidence.
But he knows fastball, the word and the pitch. And his time to start throwing is here.
“It is very exciting to actually pitch full time and do a little bit less training and more actual playing,” he said. “I am very excited about that opportunity.”