Kris Medlen: the ninth (and best) option

Mike Ehrmann - Getty Images

Medlen is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. You obviously saw this coming.

I was in the middle of writing about how I missed out on Kris Medlen, when I noticed that Jeff Sullivan wrote about Medlen. This is because Sullivan is duplicitous, but usually one step ahead. When confronted with his unfair tactics, he responded thusly:

Sorry about Medlen. Turns out he's kind of a story. Turns out also that I am better than you.

The timing of two writers deciding to write about Medlen isn't a coincidence. It had more to do with the surprise of Medlen imperceptibly morphing into a case of "Wait, this guy isn't going away." The transformation is over. It happened. It's not like there was an obvious demarcation line, but certainly after Wednesday's start, it's unambiguously clear that Kris Medlen is something of a bad, bad man.

There have been other guys I've missed. It happens to all of us, from baseball nerds to GMs alike. Take Josh Collmenter, for instance. He wasn't ranked on the Baseball America top-30 list for the Diamondbacks before the 2011 season. Then he was up and throwing hatchet-balls, playing a big role for a division-winning team. Surprise!

Medlen is different, though. He was never a top-100 prospect overall, but he had some sweet numbers in the minors:

Year Age Lev ERA IP HR BB SO
2006 20 Rk 0.41 22.0 0 2 36
2007 21 A+-A-AA 1.53 47.0 2 12 63
2008 22 AA 3.52 120.1 8 27 120
2009 23 AAA 1.19 37.2 0 10 44

The numbers alone should have made him more visible. But he was ranked the Braves' #28 prospect in the 2007 Prospect Handbook, and #24 in the 2008 Prospect Handbook, with BA describing him like this:

He isn't afraid to challenge hitters with his low-90s fastball and does an excellent job of mixing his sharp curveball, which often serves as his strikeout pitch. He continues to work on his changeup, which shows promise, but he doesn't use it much out of the bullpen.

He moved up to #9 in 2009, and he was described as a potential "starter, swingman, or reliever depending on Atlanta's needs." That was quite astute, as in 2012, the Braves were in need of a staff ace, so they just plugged Medlen into that role. That's probably not what BA meant, but the Braves are crafty like that.

(Another reason Medlen escaped notice: He started as a reliever in 2009, moved to a swingman role in 2010, and disappeared into the fog of Tommy John for the end of 2010 and almost all of 2011. He was an established major-league reliever for a very, very brief time, if he ever was at all.)

I had plans to make a bunch of GIFs of Medlen, but Sullivan obviously beat me to it. There is a loophole, though! There wasn't one made of the changeup.

It's one of the hardest change-ups to identify on television, I can tell you that much. That probably doesn't mean anything, but the arm action makes you think fastball until the hitter is out front and the on-screen graphic flashes "79." That first BA report said the pitch showed promise. That promise was realized. Linear weights has the change-up as Medlen's best pitch, and according to Brooks Baseball, the pitch has become obscenely effective; when Medlen throws a change, it's whiffed on 24 percent of the time. It's his de facto strikeout pitch against left-handers.

Medlen is the most surprising young pitcher since, oh, Brandon Beachy. That's probably not a coincidence. Beachy was undrafted, but he was effective from the moment he started getting paid to play baseball. The only thing that could stop him was a grumpy ligament, as he underwent Tommy John surgery, too.

The Braves have shown a remarkable combination of scouting and development when it comes to guys like Medlen and Beachy. They started as draft afterthoughts, moved on to unheralded prospects, and settled in with major-league success with nary an adjustment period. They are to pitchers what the Cardinals are to corner infielders/outfielders. The Braves figured they were eight deep going into last offseason -- Hudson, Hanson, Beachy, Minor, Jurrjens, Vizcaino, Delgado, Teheran.

But it was the ninth guy who came up in 2012 and helped them pull away with the Wild Card lead. As long as his health sticks around, so will the extraordinarily talented Kris Medlen.

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