Will Startup has moved around a lot, but his heart has always been with the Braves. He was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and after living in Jacksonville, Florida for ten years, his family moved to Cartersville, Georgia, just north of Atlanta, ten years ago.
"The Braves have always been my favorite team," Startup said back in June. "It's a dream come true to be picked by them. You couldn't ask for anything more."
You expect that declaration from kids, even when it might not be quite true. But with the Braves organization, filled with plenty of homegrown kids just like Startup, you realize it is, in fact, very true and very genuine. As he prepared for the draft, Startup didn't know who would be taking him or when he'd be selected. A lot of scouts talked with him, including Al Goetz of the Braves. After "wearing a hole" in his carpet, he got the word from Goetz he was a Brave and "shouted at the top of his lungs."
Out of high school, Startup decided to attend the University of Georgia, known for its solid baseball program and unparalleled academics. It was in Athens that he became a solid baseball prospect. He throws several pitches - a fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. Startup likes to mix things up, and he has better than average command of all of them, while not relying too much on any one pitch. Now, after two months in the system, he knows the type of organization he is in and the priority placed on pitching - especially young left-handed pitchers. This, even more than his allegiance to the Braves since childhood, made him want to come to Atlanta.
"I know I am going to get good coaching," he said. "Just being apart of the Braves is amazing."
Two months after donning the Braves uniform for the first time, the young southpaw already feels at home.
"It's been going really well," Startup said last week. "I'm just trying to get better. I had a stretch where I gave up a run, and then two runs, and then another run. I was just itching to find something to work on, but my coaches said, ‘hey, keep going after them, being aggressive and keep doing what you're doing.'"
He listened and has stayed aggressive. (Leo Mazzone will love that.) He is feeling comfortable and pitching like his style demands. Startup is 2-1 in 21 games, with a 1.48 ERA, 23 hits allowed in 30.1 innings, seven earned runs, five walks, and 24 strikeouts. Is he satisfied?
"No, I don't like walking people," he said. "I don't like giving up runs. There is always somewhere that I can get better."
So far, the Braves have made no changes to his delivery. While mechanical changes may not be needed, Startup is going to the Instructional League in Orlando. If there is a flaw, they will find it there. Right now they are just trying to get him to be consistent. Then they can look at him up close for a couple of weeks in October and tweak. If you have never seen the Braves' staff tweak, it is a think of beauty. To hear them talk about pitching and see how they notice that a foot lands too far to the left, or how a knee points a shade too much to the right, or how an arm is just slightly out of the slot, is really fun to watch.
Until that tweaking begins, he is living with a family in Rome, occasionally slipping back home to catch some sleep in his own bed. He must be a good a good housemate for his host family. He is getting married in December to Lauren Voshell, who also happens to be their granddaughter.
This kid is knows his place in the organization. When asked if it was a good thing to see the other sixteen rookies (some of whom are younger than him) come up from the farm this year or if it is discouraging knowing so many spots are already filled, he said, "I figure you can always use a lefthander in the bullpen. I believe those positions are always open and if you need one, you go get one. Lefthanders are not a dime a dozen, and that's why I am going to continue to work hard. I feel like I could be there now. (hey…a reliever needs confidence and he has it; this did not come across cocky at all, just self assured) I know how the Braves develop their players. I agree with their system, and I want to fit in as much as I can."
His goal? "Just to keep getting better everyday." With a fantastic strikeout to walk ratio and an ERA under 2.00, that should be fun to watch.
It's fun when you get to see a kid think he is realizing a dream; the only thing better is to see it actually happen - like we have seen so many times this year. But it never gets old. Right now, Will thinks it doesn't get any better than this. Well, Mr. Startup, as you start up the ladder, the higher you go, the better it will be for you. And in a few years, he might just be the one Bobby Cox calls on to finish up a game for the big Braves. That's when the dream will become a reality.
Startup happy to be a Brave
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