About Medlen being drafted:
Kurt Kemp, Atlanta's then-Farm Director:
Medlen is an interesting case because every time you see him he’s coming in from shortstop. He’s the starting shortstop at Santa Ana Junior College. So he would come out and was their closer and saved a number of games, but you never really got a chance to see him fresh. I think he’s going to be a very interesting guy to see when he just gets on a regular pitching regiment. That’s just not been the nature of what he’s done. He’s had to play the whole game, and then he’s come into pitch in the eighth or ninth. You take infield and then play the whole game at short, and it’s got to take a little bit out of that arm. He would still come in and show us a plus fastball and the ability to spin a breaking ball and just do a terrific job. He might be a surprise to us when we allow him to just be a pitcher, since he’s been doing both for that team. We’re going to see him get to go to the pen and warm up and then get to come in and pitch, and not just play eight innings at shortstop where he’s throwing the ball across the diamond. So hopefully, he’ll be fresher.
Tom Battista, the scout who signed Medlen in 2006:
Last spring before the draft his stuff was as good as any big-bodied pitcher out west. Kris is only 5’11”, 180 with a very athletic build, not the 6’5”, 200-plus body we always take a long look at before moving on. His fastball range was as low as 89 and as high as 94 mph. The curveball is a sharp 12-6 with depth and above average quality break. The changeup was already average at the major league level and he used a slider early in the year in the low-80s that broke off late. One big key was his control. He was one of the few pitchers we say in California last year that had command of the strike zone. It was good to see him settle in with the curveball because the speed change on the curveball gave him the best three-pitch mix with all three pitches coming in at different speeds. Combined with the ability to change eye-levels it made him difficult to hit. He has a fast deceptive arm action that is about as clear and fluid as you will see. It’s so natural that you can’t help but think he was born to throw a baseball.
The thing that separates Kris is the mental part of his game. He was a sleeper. His boyish look and the fun he showed every time he was out on the field made you think he was a nice guy – until he toed the rubber. Just when you’d think he’s going to pick at the outside corner he took his stuff right at hitters. He was relentless and is a big-game competitor. Unless you spend the time going back and back again you could easily miss that part. He was a closer and like all closers, scouting them takes more time depending on save opportunities. Fortunately, he played for a winning team and we stuck with him.
He would hit at the top of the order and player shortstop for eight innings and then run to the bullpen with a lead and come out and close. Kris is very athletic and was being scouted as a left-handed hitting shortstop by some clubs. That athleticism and natural instinct to compete is a big contributor to his success on the mound. He actually has a big league closer’s mentality in a young athletic body with a lot of room for physical growth and development. The bottom line is that he had better stuff than any of the ‘big guys’ in Southern California last spring, and his makeup brought it all together.
2006 SEASON REVIEW
What can you say about a year like this? Kris Medlen had one of the best seasons by a reliever in the history of the organization. One earned run allowed in 22 innings? That’s unheard of. He gave up his sole earned run in his third game of the season, and that was it. The only other blemish was an unearned run he allowed late in August. Medlen allowed only one earned run in his twenty appearances, along with just two walks and 36 strikeouts. The Braves were not sure if Medlen would just be ‘another’ reliever or if he could emerge into a closer. Remember, he had mainly been a shortstop, so the Braves probably just wanted to see if the kid could pitch. Well, he not only showed them he could pitch, but that he could take the role as the closer and run with it. He was then called up to Rome to pitch in the playoffs for them and equally impressed the coaches up there. Medlen could not have had a better season in his professional debut.
INTERVIEW WITH KRIS MEDLEN (conducted Fall, 2006)
Q: Talk about going into the draft. You had been an infielder, correct? How much did you pitch in college?
A: I was like the designated closer. I threw hard – harder than anybody else on the team. But I was the shortstop, the guy everybody could count on. I did it my freshman year too. This was my third year of junior college because I red-shirted my sophomore year. I had experience with it. They just put the ball in my hands and I just did my thing.
Q: Were you that good of a shortstop to stay at shortstop?
A: Obviously not, but I was just a better pitcher. I thought I could play short, but that was maybe just my ego. I thought I was a pretty good shortstop, but I liked pitching. It’s definitely the spot for me obviously.
Q: Were people looking at you as a shortstop?
A: Yeah they said they were sure I could have gone into rookie ball and probably played some short, but I was much better as a pitcher I guess.
Q: How much attention did you pay to pitching?
A: Honestly, pitching came more naturally to me than shortstop. I had to work a lot more at shortstop. With pitching, my mechanics seemed to always be there. I would always watch TV as a little kid imitating major league pitchers. I liked to pay attention to the little things. It really helped my mechanics.
Q: Did you pitch in high school?
A: Yeah I was a starter in high school actually. I was 12-1 in California, so I’ve been pitching for a while.
Q: So it’s not like you’re totally new at this.
A: Yeah. It’s not new to me. I’ve just always done both. This is the first time I’ve only been a pitcher and concentrated on it, which I think is going to help me tremendously. I’ve never actually focused on it. The year that I had this year, I had a pretty good year, so it definitely showed.
Q: Were you surprised at how good you were this season in Danville?
A: I honestly was. I surprised myself. I wasn’t a big name, so I had to prove myself. I knew when I first showed up no one knew me. No one knew my name. Some of those guys knew each other. I knew in my heart that I could do what they were doing, but I had to prove myself.
Q: I would imagine you had to be excited to know you were going to finally concentrate on one thing in your game, instead of bouncing back and forth.
A: Yeah definitely. I wasn’t like the closer in Danville until probably halfway through the season. I had to prove myself. When it happened, the first inning I pitched as a closer I went up to Doug Henry (Danville’s pitching coach) and said, ‘I think I can do this.’ I was doubting myself a bit. But I had to prove to myself I could do it and I did.
Q: So what all do you throw?
A: Fastball, curve, and change. I’m down here working on my changeup. The whole summer I was throwing a fastball and curveball. Those were my two pitches. I didn’t really work on my changeup until I got down here.
Q: How fast are you throwing?
A: Anywhere from 90-93. That’s the fastest I’ve been throwing. In college I was 89-90. Giving my arm a rest from playing shortstop is definitely helping my arm strength and my fatigue factor.
Q: How much does success help you, especially knowing that in this organization you’ve got to separate yourself a bit?
A: Pressure from, not coaches, but the players because you know everyone is just as good if not better than you. The competitiveness comes out in you. You tell yourself you have to do it or else. It’s a business. You’ve got to separate yourself.
Q: You’ve been relieving for a while, but after this year do you feel like a closer now?
A: I guess. A designated closer – just a guy who can come in and get outs, confident, throw strikes. But I’m just going to get the ball and do my job, whatever it is – middle relief, or start. But just get the ball and do what I’m told.
Q: Were you surprised when you got the call to Rome?
A: Would it be weird if I said, ‘no?’ I wasn’t surprised cause I knew some of the guys were going up and I told myself, ‘why not me?’ I did pretty well, so I went up and helped them.
Q: Looking forward to next year, you could go back to Rome or you could skip Rome and head straight to Myrtle Beach. Have you thought about that?
A: I’ve been told different things, but I’m just going to go one step at a time. In my head I’ve got Rome on my mind. If I skip it, I skip it. If not, I’m just going to do what I can do.
DANVILLE 2006 PITCHING DOUG HENRY
He had a great year, an unbelievable year. If you watched him pitch this year, you believed why he had an unbelievable year. His stuff was just phenomenal. He was throwing the ball 92-94 every time out there. He spotted his fastball. The curveball… no one touched it. It’s an above average curveball. When he throws it, you’re in the dugout and you go up and down with it. It’s that sharp. It’s fun. He has fun playing the game. As a coach, you’re right along with him having fun too. It was a joy to watch that pitch all year long. He’s also got a changeup. He was our closer. He kept wanting to throw that changeup all summer long. He probably threw it three times, and every time he’d throw it he’d throw it in the wrong situation and he’d give up a hit with it. It wouldn’t be where he was going to give up a run with it, but we’d have a lead and he’d toy around with that pitch. Finally, I told him, ‘listen you don’t need that right now. You are our closer and we’re trying to win with you. Developing that changeup can come later.’ So he didn’t throw it anymore. Just fastball and curveball all summer long. It was fun to watch. When we left Danville to come to the Instructional League, he wanted to know why he was coming down here since he had a great year. And I told him, ‘now is the time to work on that changeup.’ So he’s come down here and that’s all he’s worked on. He’s given up a few runs, but he feels like he’s getting that changeup. So we’re accomplishing what we sent him down here to accomplish. I’ve heard some of the other coaches say that he’s got a really good changeup. He hasn’t been locating his fastball as well down here, but he’ll be okay. He’s got a very good head on his shoulders. He was an All-State shortstop for his JUCO conference, but he was Closer of the Year too. He’s a little guy, so you hope he stays healthy since he has phenomenal stuff. He’s an unbelievable athlete. Kris loved being the closer. He just went out and did his job. He’s a great kid.
This is one of those stories you hear about someone in the big leagues. Young kid who was mainly a shortstop, given a chance to pitch on a regular basis, and then becoming a star. Just how good is Kris Medlen? Well this season (2007) will be a huge test for him. He’ll have this extra pitch to work on, which should be interesting. He’ll be tested by the grueling five-month season schedule, which will be more than he’s ever pitched. But there’s no reason to be concerned about this kid. It’s just always good to see a player who has excelled be tested somewhat. The coaches I talked with about Medlen just shook their heads. He just goes out there and mows people down. Even when he went to Rome late in the season, Medlen made a huge impression. When I saw him in the Instructional League in October, it was obvious he’s difficult to pick up. I stood right behind home plate. There’s a lot of movement on his pitches. And since he’s not a very big kid, the arm angle does have some deception. But he really challenges hitters. He likes to throw inside, or at least he did in the inning I saw him pitch. The Braves believe they may have a Jeff Montgomery-type reliever here. The former Royals’ closer was not a very big guy, but he was very effective. Medlen will probably start the 2007 season in Rome, but if he pitches anything close to the way he performed in 2006, Medlen will not be there long. We do need to remember that this kid is still very young, and he has a lot more to learn about pitching. But when you see someone do this well, you do kind of get excited about the future.