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Braves' Teheran growing every step

Atlanta pitching prospect looking to build on breakout season
October 26, 2011
Julio Teheran's accolades should speak for themselves. But for someone who knows the young flamethrower's ability as well as anybody else, the achievements and trophies don't begin to scratch the surface of this 20-year-old's talent.

The native of Colombia took home the International League's Most Valuable Pitcher and Rookie of the Year awards, was named to the Mid- and Postseason All-Star teams and was chosen to start the XM Futures Game for the World Team.

Graham Godfrey, Sacramento

Graham Godfrey rebounded from a subpar 2010 campaign with the best season of his five-year career. The A's right-hander won a Pacific Coast League-best 14 games, going 14-3 with a 2.68 ERA over 19 outings -- including 18 starts - for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. Godfrey struck out 89 batters over 107 1/3 innings, holding hitters to a .227 average. He was especially efficient in the first half of the season, posting an 8-1 record and 2.32 ERA in his first 10 appearances.
But Marty Reed, Teheran's pitching coach at Gwinnett -- the Atlanta Braves' Triple-A affiliate -- says these highlights pale in comparison to what he could go on to accomplish.

"For a kid to be 20 years old and to be where he's at, he's well above the curve. He would be a junior in college right now. It's incredible. He has superstar written all over him," Reed said. "Considering his age, I would say he has a chance to be a Pedro Martinez-type of guy. He has a great future."

Over 25 appearances -- including 24 starts -- this year, Teheran posted a 15-3 record and a 2.55 ERA, the latter of which was tied for the league lead with Columbus' Jeanmar Gomez. His 15 wins ranked second behind Clearwater's Julio Rodriguez for the most in the Minors.

Teheran was 11-1 with a 1.67 ERA through his first 18 starts, and he allowed one run or fewer in 15 of his 25 appearances. Highlighting his dominance, he held opponents to a .232 average, the lowest mark for a starting pitcher in the league.

"He was phenomenal. I mean, 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA? He was in the low 2s or high 1s for most of the year," Reed said. "He had a couple bad outings at the end of the year, but other than that we couldn't have asked for anything more. You have to remember that he's a 20-year-old kid fresh out of A-Ball last year going against guys who have been in this league four or five years."

The reason for his rapid success comes from two plus pitches, pinpoint control and his ability to keep the ball in the yard. He struck out 122 batters while issuing 48 walks, and he yielded just five homers in 144 2/3 innings.

"He's got an above average fastball that sits between 93 and 96, and he exhibits very good command which is something we preach here," Reed explained. "There's not a lot of guys running around at 20 years old doing that. He throws his fastball for strikes where he wants it. His curve is OK and his change-up is outstanding. One of the things that tops it off is that he has a good idea how and when to use it.

"It was a lot of fun watching him and teaching him. He has a desire to learn and a willingness to work."

That work ethic led to two spot starts early in the spring in Atlanta, and although he knew he was unlikely to stick around, Teheran savored his chance and pledged to make his next trip much longer.

Ranked as Atlanta's top prospect, Teheran's finest outing of the year came shortly after he returned to Triple-A. He scattered three hits and struck out a season-high 11 batters over a career-best eight innings June 9 to lead the Braves to a 2-0 victory over the Toledo Mud Hens.

"His start against Toledo was really impressive. It was like the other hitters were shaking their heads and saying we don't have a chance. I don't care what level you're at, those pitches would get people out. He would have got Major Leaguers out doing that."

While dominant as a single-game effort, his sixth career double-digit strikeout outing served merely as a platform for what was to come. Between June 9 and July 26, Atlanta's right-handed starter of the year surrendered just six earned runs in 52 innings (1.04 ERA).

"I had him last year too, so I'm used to it," Reed said of Teheran's continued success. "Maybe not 15-3, but his desire to show everyone he belongs here despite being 20 years old. He wanted to prove he should be here.

"I asked him if he was ready to pitch in this league and he said, 'Yes I am.' I told him to keep his composure, because he has good enough stuff to get guys out. He might have some tough times, but I told him he'd get through them. Fortunately, there was not a lot of times when he wasn't able to get through it.

Teheran returned to Turner Field again as a September callup, and he earned his first Major League victory in a 5-1 win in the second half of a twin bill against the New York Mets on Sept. 8. He finished 1-1 with a 5.03 ERA in five games -- including three starts -- for the Braves.

"The consistency is the key now," Reed said. "That is what you need to have in the Major Leagues. When you put Julio's raw stuff against the pitchers in the Atlanta rotation, his raw stuff is better. But can he execute his pitches consistently like Tim Hudson or Jair Jurrjens or Tommy Hanson can? He's not at that point yet. When he can, that will make him a complete pitcher. Then you'll see some pretty well-pitched games at the big league level.

"Watching him on TV, playing in New York, you coach for those moments. Remember, it's not me that did it. I just had a little part of it, it wasn't about me. It's his effort that helped him get there. He does the work and he was willing to put in the effort. I almost look at him like a son, and when he does something positive I'm always happy for him. It's like it happened to you too. It touches your heart a little bit. It's a great feeling."

Whether Teheran breaks camp with the Braves out of Spring Training next year remains to be seen, but there's every reason to expect to see him at Turner Field at some point again in 2012. By then, he'll be 21 years old -- the same age three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez was when he burst onto the Major League stage almost two decades ago.

Only time will tell whether Teheran can add that accolade to his quickly growing list of achievements.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to