The following story appears in the fourth edition of "Tomahawk Talk," the official gameday publication of the Gwinnett Braves. Pick up a FREE copy at Coolray Field from July 4-28.
Right-hander Stephen Janas is living out his baseball dreams with the Atlanta Braves after being drafted by his hometown team in the sixth round out of Kennesaw State University in 2013.
In just his third full minor league season, the Marietta, GA native has advanced from Double-A Mississippi to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he went 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA over his first five outings.
His path to one day pitching in the Majors for the Braves hasn't always been a smooth one. Janas saw a spectacular 2015 season interrupted on May 12, 2015 when he suffered a concussion during a bus accident while traveling with the Advanced-A Carolina Mudcats.
Janas has bounced back from the injury and is now one step away from joining the Braves at Turner Field. He recently sat down with Dave Lezotte of Tomahawk Talk to reflect on his career so far.
Dave Lezotte: Having grown up in Georgia, how special was it for you to get drafted by the Atlanta Braves?
Stephen Janas: It was a dream come true to just get drafted, but it was even more special that it was by the Atlanta Braves. Growing up 30 minutes from Turner Field my whole life, it was really cool.
DL: After pitching for Danville, Rome, Carolina and Mississippi, what's it like being so close to home here in Gwinnett?
SJ: I've had a couple crowd roars when I've come in to pitch for home games. Pitching out of the bullpen, my family seems to come to a lot of games, which is nice. I get to see them a bunch. A lot of friends that weren't able to travel across the southeast when I was playing on other teams, they've been able to make it out to a couple games as well.
DL: Up until this season, you were a starting pitcher. What prompted the move to the bullpen, and how have you handled the adjustment so far?
SJ: (The Braves) brought in a lot of great pitchers in the offseason, and they thought it was best for me to the organization (to move to the bullpen). It was really weird at first, but I had some veteran bullpen guys show me the ropes and help me get adjusted to the change.
DL: Who are some of those veteran guys who helped you?
SJ: Matt Marksberry, who started out in Double-A with me this year before he went to the Majors and then back here (to Gwinnett). Also Jason Hursh, who had done it the year before, he helped me out. A lot of guys there in Mississippi helped me out with (the transition).
DL: As a reliever, do you find your mindset on the mound has changed? Do you do things differently than you would as a starter?
SJ: I just really go out and attack early. I'd say as a starter, not that you're timid in the first inning, but you're trying to feel out your pitches, trying to feel out how aggressive they (the opposing team) are as a team. I had a couple rough outings early, but I learned early in the season that you've got to come out of the gates firing and go right at them with your best stuff.
DL: What pitches do you throw, and what is your plan against a hitter? Are you trying to strike guys out, or pitching to contact?
SJ: I don't strike many guys out, and when I do, it's usually with just a located fastball. (I use) sinkers and cutters, I want contact early. I kind of attack hitters like I did as a starter. I want them to hit the ball, I just want it to go on the ground.
DL: After going 3-2 with a 1.89 ERA and three saves in 18 games with Mississippi, you were called up to Gwinnett on June 5. What has your Triple-A debut been like so far?
SJ: I've fallen into some success here. The promotion was unexpected, but it was nice. I got to move home and live with the family of a college buddy. It's familiar here, it's really cool.
DL: Last season, when you were still starting for Carolina, you were one of the most dominant pitchers in the minors. You went 4-0 with a 0.56 ERA in your first five starts. Then, the bus accident happened and you has to miss more than a month. How did you deal with that setback?
SJ: I was pretty happy that nobody ended up dying. When all the dust settled, I thought somebody was going to be in pretty bad shape. It took four or five of us out for like a month and a half. But I got back out there and battled my way through the second half of the season.
DL: Was it different dealing with an injury that was the result of an accident and not something you did on the mound?
SJ: It was something I couldn't control, so I tried to deal with it the best I could. It was weird because I was in a groove and I was pitching well, and then (the accident) happened and I took a month and a half off. Once I came back, I felt good, I got (a promotion to Mississippi) and it took a bit of time to adjust to the Double-A level.
DL: Prior to being drafted by the Braves, you had an impressive college career at Kennesaw State University, going 9-1 with a 1.14 ERA as a junior in 2013 and earning All-Atlantic Sun Conference First Team Honors. After you left, the Owls made the NCAA Super Regional for the first time in 2014. Do you still keep in touch with your old coaches and teammates?
SJ: I talk to the coaches a good bit, I still have to get them out here (to Coolray Field) for a game. I joke with Mike Sansing, the head coach over there, that I guess they just had to get rid of me to have some postseason success. I talk to the guys, a lot of the guys who got drafted this year, and a lot of the guys who got drafted (in 2013) I stay in touch with and work out in the offseason with.
DL: What are your goals for your time here with the G-Braves?
SJ: Just get my work done every day. There's definitely a learning curve here (in Triple-A) as well. I'm trying to make that adjustment a little quicker than I did at the Double-A level. Take it day by day and try to be more consistent.
DL: Now that you're one step away from the Majors, does the thought of getting the call-up to Atlanta and achieving your ultimate dream cross your mind?
SJ: It's there, but it crept into my mind when I was five years old and I went to my first game at Turner Field. I've always thought about it. But you can't go every day thinking "am I going to get called up today?" You've got to put your work in. There's a lot of good pitchers here. If you're worrying about (a call-up), you've got bigger problems.