SHANKS: Tell me when you first started watching Joey Devine.
BEST: Well I first saw him his freshman year there at N.C. State in the fall. I coached at State, and the guy that took my place saw him sometime the summer before he attended State. There was a tornado that came through and the game got cancelled. The family and Billy Jones, who was the Assistant Coach at N.C. State that signed him, drove an hour and a half and went to a softball field. They got Joey's brother to catch him on a softball field on flat ground. That's when they signed him. But the first time I saw him was that fall of his freshman year.
SHANKS: Has he always been a reliever?
BEST: Yes at N.C. State he has. In high school he was a position player. Some people recruited him as a position player. It was kind of hard to see him pitch.
SHANKS: So did he pitch a lot in high school?
BEST: Yeah he pitched. I can't remember if he was a starter or a reliever, but I do know he was a pretty good position player. He actually played third base last year at N.C. State. He was recruited by a lot of schools in the fall and he said none of them really tickled his fancy, so he waited and then N.C. State got his name somehow and called him. They went out there to Kansas to see him that summer before he went to state.
SHANKS: Is that around the time when you were leaving N.C. State as a coach?
BEST: I left N.C. State in Sept., and then that next summer is when they signed him.
SHANKS: So when did you know this kid was a prospect?
BEST: That first day - he stood out like a sore thumb. He was 91 that fall of his freshman year. From a velocity standpoint, he would be anywhere from 91-94. But then this spring around the end of March is where he really started to throw harder on a more consistent basis. He's such a good kid. That's what I know we got. We've got a hard worker. All his teammates and coaches will see that once he joins that Myrtle Beach team.
SHANKS: They term his delivery as being "funky." What's his delivery like?
BEST: Well he's a sidearmer and throws across his body a little bit, so if you're a right-handed hitter it looks like he's throwing from left-center. So he's pretty tough on right-handed hitters.
SHANKS: And that fastball is the big drawing card with him, correct?
BEST: Well anybody can read a radar gun, and he's been up at 96 and 95 and he hadn't done that until right at the end of this year. He'd showed you some of those fairly consistently. One time we wanted to see his durability. The coach at N.C. State really was good for him as far as overpitching him. For a while he'd come in and there would be a ton of scouts all weekend. Then one weekend when they were playing Virginia Tech, Roy wanted to see how he would bounce back. He pitched an inning on a Friday, and I saw that inning, and then he pitched on that Sunday with like 15 hours rest. He pitched five innings. For the first four innings, he didn't throw a pitch under 91. He was pretty much 90-94 and then by the end of March…I saw him at East Carolina for an inning and he was at 93-96. Then you include that with his makeup. He can still get guys out. He doesn't have to throw 93-96. It's certainly nice if he does. But even if he settles in at 91, I still think he's going to be very effective when he gets out and plays. The makeup is going to be the separator in any profession. What kind of makeup do you have with the desire and the passion? I think that's a plus that he has. His makeup is great. He's got a good track record. He was on Team USA and led them in pitching as he only allowed one run this past summer. When Roy emphasized the makeup, from the day I got to the Braves, he said, ‘We may miss on talent, but let's make sure we've got that makeup part right.' That's why you see the Marcus Giles in the 53rd round and LaRoche was a 29th round and their makeup was outstanding. I was fortunate because I lived right there and got to know the kid real well. He just started throwing a changeup. I didn't really see him throw it much, but some of our other scouts that came in saw him throw it. Paul Snyder talked about his changeup that he threw. That's going to be a pitch that they think will be very effective against left-handers. I didn't really get to see it. That's one thing he'll continue to develop when he gets in our system.
SHANKS: But that slider, with his delivery, must be really nasty.
BEST: It is and he throws it hard. It's got a big break. It has a lot of deviation to it. I think that adds to a lot more of the deception from that angle. Usually there's a little bit of a sweep to it, but when he can throw that thing 80-84 miles an hour I've seen him get it under left-handed hitters and get it in on them a little bit. That's an effective pitch.
SHANKS: Since we emphasize high school pitchers so much, how realistic did you feel it would be for us to get him?
BEST: Well Roy told me fairly early this spring that we were going to go after a college power arm. He was one of the guys we had targeted. I called Joey the day of the draft. We had heard that the Red Sox were probably going to take him. But I called him the day of the draft and said, ‘Who do you think are going to take you?' He said, ‘I think the Red Sox are going to take me.' I don't have the information that Roy has, but I was certainly happy and somewhat surprised. I'll never forget that one of our crosscheckers, Kurt Kemp, who is from the west coast, he was at a game in Greensboro and I was at another game. He was trying to get to Joey's game. It was on a Sunday. He saw this kid from Greensboro who went in the second round. He got in the car and he was trying to get to Joey's game at N.C. State. The whole time I was on the phone with him giving him directions. It was a conference game, so they had a lot of people there. He had to jog up to the game. I think they were playing Clemson. He got there in the bottom of the 9th. I think he threw several pitches at 95. I'll never forget Kurt telling me, and he sees more of the better guys than I do, he didn't think Joey would be there when we picked. There were just a number of teams that like college pitchers, and there were not many throwing 95. So we were just ecstatic that he was there when we picked. We were unbelievably happy. He signed right away. He was thrilled to be an Atlanta Braves with the tradition that we have. It was a dream for the kid, and it was a real exciting time as you can imagine for me. I just thought, with the info I had, that the Red Sox would get him. It was extremely exciting. We've never taken a guy in the first round from my area since I've been scouting. It's nerve-racking, but it was extremely exciting. He's a very even-keeled kid. He told me when he signed, ‘I'm just going to go out there and pitch like I have all my life and pitch to one hitter at a time.' I think those are the things that will allow him to pitch in the big leagues – the type of kid he is.
SHANKS: How far away is Devine? There has been talk he might be ready soon?
BEST: I think his chances are pretty good to move through the system. As any thing else, you've got to take it one day at a time. He has pitched a number of innings already, so I don't know how that'll enter into it. I know it wouldn't shock me one bit if he's up there faster than some people would normally expect, but again I have no history of that with the Braves. We usually have high school kids and raise them, but with this kid I think we're just going to have to give him the ball and let time take care of itself. It would be really special if it happens, even if it's next season or the next season. I just think he's going to pitch there. If there's a need for him in the bullpen (this year), that might force our folks to make a decision to get him there a little bit earlier that what we've done in the past. That's the first time we've ever sent a kid to Myrtle Beach right off the bat. Dan Meyer was the last college arm I can remember. He was taken in the sandwich round, but he went right to Danville. Joey's going right to Myrtle Beach. So he's getting the opportunity to skip some clubs right away and maybe have a chance to move a little bit.
SHANKS: But makeup-wise, he can handle that responsibility, correct?
BEST: In my mind there's no doubt about that. He's a very even-keeled kid. He keeps everything in perspective. I think he'll pitch the same at Turner Field that he pitched like at N.C. State. That experience with Team USA certainly didn't hurt him. He proved that he could pitch in those conditions with Team USA, and I know the big leagues are a long way away. But he hasn't showed any reason why he shouldn't be able to handle that environment. He believes he can pitch there, but he's not very cocky.
SHANKS: Does he have a closer's mentality?
BEST: Well I think he's got that mentality. He doesn't have any fear. He's got enough stuff. He's always been a strike thrower. He's got good stuff. He doesn't seem phased. He always wants the ball. He is a bulldog. He's got that mentality. The good news is if he continues to throw the way he threw the last few months of the season, with that stuff he's got, and as many strikes as he throws, it's kind of hard to imagine he won't get people out with that stuff.
BravesCenter's Bill Shanks has a new book out on baseball scouting and player development.Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team is in bookstores now. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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