Lucas Sims is the latest example of the old axiom: it's not how you start; it's how you finish.
The Braves' top prospect, who made his professional debut in 2012 with Rookie-level Danville, opened last season in the Class A Rome bullpen, working under an innings limit. After pitching 31 innings through April and May, Sims saw his season pick up, going five innings for the first time in a win against Asheville on June 5.
The Georgia native was nearly unbeatable thereafter, going 10-2 in the second half and winning his final eight starts. Incredibly, Sims allowed only eight earned runs and racked up 57 strikeouts during that stretch.
Overall, the 19-year-old right-hander was 12-4 with a 2.62 ERA and held South Atlantic League foes to a .203 average en route to being named the Braves' Minor League Pitcher of the Year. We talked to the native of the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville.
MiLB.com: You ended the season on an eight-game winning streak and won 10 games after the All-Star Break. What was the key?
Sims: I think the biggest thing for me was learning my routine, what I needed to do to get ready for the start. The other thing was learning from each start. You can learn something new from each start, good or bad.
MiLB.com: What were some of the things you learned?
Sims: You don't have to try to strike everybody out; trust your defense behind you. The biggest thing for me is that walks will kill you. Not locating your fastball, executing your pitches -- sometimes it will come back to haunt you. Really locking in and focusing on what I needed to do each and every pitch.
MiLB.com: What was it like to get on a roll like that?
Sims: It's good for your confidence. It makes you feel that you can go out there, even without your best stuff, and perform. That was another big thing I learned this year: you're not going to have your best stuff every time. Sometimes you have to grind through innings and make quality pitches, even when it's tough to.
MiLB.com: Was it frustrating being on an innings limit to start the season?
Sims: Besides having all the time there is to warm up, the difference between the bullpen, I guess the preparation is a little different. Once you get on the mound, it's all the same thing. You gotta get out there and execute. It's just a shorter time frame to do it.
MiLB.com: What was it like getting to pitch with the Braves' first-round pick, Jason Hursh?
Sims: We developed an awesome friendship. He's one of my good friends in the organization. We like to hang out and talk baseball. We just try and learn from each other. It was a great benefit having him there last season.
MiLB.com: How honored were you to be named the Braves' Minor League Pitcher of the Year?
Sims: That was huge. Any sort of award like that is a great honor. Hopefully, there's more to come.
MiLB.com: I've read that you grew up a Braves fan. What was it like to be drafted by them?
Sims: It was a dream come true for me. That was what I wanted my whole life. When I got that call, it was the start of hopefully very exciting things for me.
MiLB.com: On the day you signed, you got to see John Smoltz have his number retired in person. What was that like?
Sims: That was very cool for me and my mom. That was one of my mom's favorite players. Getting to talk to him and pick his brain for the little time I had, it was very cool.
MiLB.com: How excited were you to see Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux elected to the Hall of Fame?
Sims: That was super cool -- to see guys that I've grown up watching get the honors that they really do deserve. Hopefully, Smoltz will follow next year. And seeing Bobby Cox get inducted, too. It was a great day to be a Brave.
MiLB.com: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
Sims: I think Smoltz is my favorite. If I can have a career like that, it would be a real honor. That's one of my goals, to be one of the best like those three.
MiLB.com: What are the pitches in your repertoire?
Sims: Fastball, curveball and changeup. [My] go-to pitch is the fastball, low and away. Can't go wrong with that.
MiLB.com: What are the keys for you entering 2014?
Sims: I think the key for me is commanding all three pitches in all the quadrants of the zone. The big thing for me is staying healthy. A productive season for me is staying healthy and continue to learn as much as possible.
MiLB.com: What have you been working on in the offseason?
Sims: Not too much. I just recently started playing catch a few weeks ago. I haven't really bothered with mechanical stuff. The offseason has been about strength and conditioning stuff.
MiLB.com: How else have you spent your offseason?
Sims: Trying to work on my golf game whenever I can. When the weather permits in the afternoon and you have your work in for the day, I like to hit the links.
MiLB.com: What's your handicap?
Sims: It's pretty good, it's about 12 or 14. I'm always good for a good blowup.
MiLB.com: What else do you do during your down time?
Sims: I like to get out and fish when I can, [go to the] movies. I like to relax and ease my mind and not think about baseball.