Braves Sign Nick Tisone

Even though the MLB Amateur draft was two months ago, the Atlanta Braves continue to find young talent. Monday they signed undrafted free agent Nick Tisone, a 21-year-old right-hander who pitched last season for Tallahassee Community College, to a 2005 contract.

"I feel great," Tisone said Monday afternoon. "I'm really excited about having this opportunity. Now is the time to start my professional career."

Tisone's story is an interesting one. After transferring to TCC this past year from Pearl River Community College in Mississippi, Nick got off to a terrific start going 3-0 with an ERA of 0.65. Scouts were expanding their interest in the 6'1", 185-pounder, but then he was hit by a line drive in the right elbow in mid-season. "I didn't even realize I was hurt until a full week later," Tisone explains. "I actually continued to pitch the rest of that game and then found out I was hurt. The ball hit off of my bone in the elbow. It was inflammation and I had some muscle swelling. It wasn't anything major, but it was something that just needed time to heal. It was hard. I had never experienced an injury that kept me out that long."

After a MRI showed there was no structural damage, Tisone rejoined TCC in the second half of the season. He finished with a 7-2 record and a 3.22 ERA in 12 games (10 starts). Nick allowed 56 hits in 58.2 innings, 25 runs, 21 earned runs, 15 walks, and 53 strikeouts. Opponents had a .255 batting average against him during the season.

The injury did affect his draft status. Before the injury, scouts told him he could be drafted anywhere between the 3rd and 12th rounds. But then after he got hurt, the scouts' interest waned.

"It was tough," says Tisone. "They really weren't telling me anything. I wasn't really getting that much feedback from them because I was hurt. I think a lot of teams were just waiting to see how I recovered and how I bounced back from it. After the state tournament and once the draft came, I had some clubs talking about maybe in the 6th round or the 8th round, but it just didn't work out."

The Milwaukee Brewers told Tisone's agent they were going to take his client in the 6th round. Tisone waited for the phone call, but it never came. Then the only legit offer he received was from Texas, who wanted to take him in the 10th round. Tisone decided he wasn't interested.

"At the time, my mind was focused on school," Tisone says. "I thought it was clear in my head that I needed to focus on school and that I needed another year. I was disappointed (at not being drafted), but at the same time I had an understanding of what I needed to do. I had a really good idea of what I needed to do and where I needed to go"

Tisone was all set to go to the University of Alabama, but then a few things happened to change his plans. Alabama would not accept some of his grades from TCC, so he decided he was going to attend the University of Tampa this fall. But after finishing Summer School at TCC last week, Tisone started thinking once again about playing pro baseball.

"It just hit me," Tisone explains. "Being in summer school gave me some time to do some thinking and some time to realize some things. The situation I was in wasn't the right one, and the situation I wanted to be in was to be in pro ball. I was actually finishing up a class a week ago. I had those thoughts in my head, but I couldn't really act on them until I got back home."

Tisone got back home to Gulfport, Mississippi on Thursday night. Friday morning he sat down with his dad and told him he no longer wanted to go to school. He was ready to go play pro baseball.

"I agreed with him," says Nick Tisone, Sr. "He just came home from summer school and decided he was ready to play pro baseball. It's not often you're able to pick which organization you want to be with at this age."

Nick and his dad turned around and called his agent at Leader Enterprises, who promptly put in one call to the Milwaukee Brewers and another to Al Goetz, the Braves scout that covers the Florida Panhandle and who had scouted Tisone when he was following Brandon Jones, a draft-and-follow player at TCC that the Braves signed right before the June draft.

"They called and asked if I was interested in signing another pitcher," Goetz explains. "I said it depended on who it was, and they told me it was Nick. I said, ‘Absolutely.' Then we almost lost him. I called Nick's agent back the same time the Brewers had called, but he wanted to be a Brave. It's a good signing."

And how often does an agent call out of the blue offering a pretty good pitching prospect?

"Never," Goetz admits. "We had to get this done."

When the agent called Tisone back with the news of the Braves' interest, Nick was more than thrilled.

"All I said to him was that I had an interest in signing," Nick says. "When he called me back and mentioned the Braves…just to hear ‘Atlanta Braves' was great. It felt really good to hear that."

Tisone has been a heralded pitching prospect for a number of years. He was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 24th round in 2002 out of high school. But he decided to attend Pearl River Community College, where he went 9-2 with a 3.48 ERA and had 76 strikeouts in 77.2 innings of work.

Kansas City then drafted him in the 19th round in June of 2003, but again Tisone didn't sign and instead pitched last summer in the Cape Cod League. He did well going 0-1 in 11 games with a 2.96 ERA and 1 save. Then Nick transferred to Tallahassee Community College.

Mike McLeod is the Head Coach at TCC. "Nick never threw a breaking ball above 77 mph before this season," McLeod says. "As the season progressed we moved up that velocity. We got his slider up to 89 miles an hour in the state tournament. When it's the real hard one, it's more of a cutter. When he drops off, it's got more tilt to it. He's got a real strong arm."

"Coach McLeod took me and did a great job and we worked on everything," Tisone says. "He worked with my mechanics all year. For me as a pitcher, this year was really a learning phase. I obviously have so much more to learn, but it was really my experience learning the mechanics and the pitching side of it. I got a little better understanding of pitching, and that came straight from him. He got that slider up into the high 80's and it was pretty nasty."

McLeod says Nick still needs to work on his changeup. Tisone had a little trouble controlling it during the season. But McLeod believes the fastball could be what gets him to the big leagues one day.

"We had his fastball as high as 96 mph," McLeod says. "He's got an explosive arm. He's not a real big kid, but he's got a lightning arm."

"I've got a four-seam fastball and a two-seamer," adds Tisone. "I try to pitch with my four-seamer and get some ground balls with the two-seamer. The fastball has really gained some velocity the last year. It really kind of jumped out of my hand this past year."

"I saw him in May in the state tournament," Goetz says. "Earlier in the year I saw him at 88-92 and then he was at 90-94 or so. He showed better command and a better breaking ball than I saw earlier. We had an interest in him for the draft, but we went after more position players earlier this year so it just wasn't a good fit at the time. But we're thrilled to have him now."

And Nick is equally thrilled at being a Brave. It's been somewhat of a whirlwind summer for him, but now he hopes he can once again concentrate on baseball when he first puts on that Braves uniform in the Instructional League in four weeks.

"I couldn't ask to be with a better organization," Tisone says. "They are pitching. That's such a great opportunity to be in that organization and to have those kind of pitching coaches who know the game that well. I couldn't have asked for a better team to go to."

Bill Shanks can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com

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