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Renegades' Ott rounding into stellar form
Rays left-hander's eventful year results in starting home All-Star gig
08/16/2016 9:22 PM ET
Travis Ott has averaged 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings during his Minor League career. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. -- In December 2014, the Rays, Nationals and Padres pulled off one of the more intricate player-heavy trades in recent memory.

Eleven players switched sides with centerpiece Wil Myers, the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year going from the Rays to the Padres. The deal kick-started what would later be called the Trea Turner Rule after the young shortstop had to wait until the June Draft the following year to move from the Padres to the Nationals. (The rule change now allows picks to move after the World Series.) Steven Souza Jr., Joe Ross, Ryan Hanigan, Rene Rivera, Burch Smith and No. 84 overall prospect Jake Bauers were some of the other notable names who moved.

Lost in the shuffle was left-hander Travis Ott, then 19, a 2013 25th-round pick by Washington who flew so under the radar after his time at a Pennsylvania high school and brief spells in the Gulf Coast, New York-Penn and South Atlantic Leagues that he hadn't even hired an agent.

"It was definitely weird, especially because of how young I was at the time," Ott said. "I quickly got an agent [Brian McGinn] to help me through the process, so it wouldn't be all on me. Agents are great in that way. They help you out with everything. ... As soon as I got traded, I knew I needed one then. The Rays welcomed me with open arms."

Part of that welcoming committee included some changes in organizational approach.

"They're both great organizations, but I feel that the Rays are a little more hands-on, I would say, with their pitchers," he said. "They help you battle through things. The Nationals did the same thing, but I'd say they pay more attention here."

Almost two years later, that is paying off.

Ott has been arguably the New York-Penn League's best pitcher through the first half of the 2016 season for Class A Short Season Hudson Valley and was given the start in Tuesday night's New York-Penn League All-Star Game in the Renegades' home park of Dutchess Stadium.

After the trade, the biggest changes didn't come until this spring, Ott's second with the Tampa Bay organization. The 6-foot-4 southpaw was coming off a 2015 campaign in which he posted a 3.90 ERA and 1.35 WHIP with 56 strikeouts in 60 innings for Hudson Valley. Solid numbers, but not enough to send Ott to a full-season level, meaning he was about to return to the Renegades -- this time as a reliever. Before Ott could leave the Rays' complex in Port Charlotte though, the organization got to work with the focus on moving his sidearm delivery to a more over-the-top motion.

"It was kind of an on-the-fly thing," he said. "We were in extended spring training and I got to talking to one of our pitching coaches. He said, 'Why don't we try going over the top again? See how it works for you.' So I was scheduled to come out of the bullpen in extended spring traning, and he said, 'Let's do it today.' I hadn't worked on it, so it was really on-the-fly. It was definitely weird, a little different. But I'm glad the change happened honestly. I'm more consistent now. My pitches [fastball, slider, changeup] are so much better now than they were."

It took about a month and a half before Ott felt totally at ease with the new delivery, which added about 2 mph to his fastball, but the results were seen quickly. He pitched five innings and gave up the only hit in Hudson Valley's one-hitter on June 20 in his 2016 debut out of the bullpen.

After two more scoreless relief outings -- in which he scattered two hits and struck out eight over 3 1/3 innings -- the Renegades approached him with another change. With injuries taking a toll on the club's arms, they needed him back in the rotation, if only for one start. On July 4, he tossed five scoreless innings of one-hit ball, this time at Staten Island.

He hasn't let go of the role since.

"They came up to me and said I was going to do a spot start," Ott said. "I wasn't sure how long the role would last as long as being a starter. So I went out like it was any other game. ... I'm glad I got to stay in the rotation obviously. Knowing when you pitch is awesome."

He didn't allow his first earned run until the third inning of a 10-1 win over Aberdeen on July 24, thus breaking a season-opening streak of 28 1/3 scoreless innings. Ott's still only allowed three earned runs in 43 2/3 frames for a 0.41 ERA that would lead the league if his early relief dalliances hadn't kept him a smidge under the innings qualification. The same can be said for his 0.71 WHIP and .128 opponents' batting average.

"It's been unreal," Ott said. "At first, I was thinking, 'I don't know how this is happening.' I wasn't skeptical of giving up a run. I knew it was going to happen. The 0.00 ERA was good while it lasted."

The 21-year-old left-hander isn't naive, however. He knows his third trip to the New York-Penn League has been advantageous, but he doesn't want to let an opportunity pass him by when given.

"I've learned a lot about the hitters at this level," Ott said. "I don't want to say the hitters are all the same, but I know what they can handle and what they can't. So it helps my gameplan out knowing what I can throw and in what count. Knowing what I can sneak by a certain hitter. So yeah, repeating a level has certainly helped. It's not something I wanted to do, but you accept it for what it is."

In this case, he got the payoff of starting for the North side in the All-Star Game.

"After all this hard work, it's a great opportunity for me and everybody here," Ott said. "I'm looking forward to it and I'm gonna say we're going to put on a show."

About an hour later, he fanned two while throwing nine of his 10 pitches for strikes in a perfect first inning in the circuit's midsummer classic.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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