Braves prospect Spencer Strider had meteoric rise in 2021. What’s next in 2022?

NORTH PORT, Fla. — Spencer Strider doesn’t appear intimidating. He’s listed as 6-foot, 195 pounds. His signature mustache makes one think he’s more of a character than a terrifying pitching presence.

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Yet when he takes the mound, Strider is pumping triple-digits. The Braves took Strider from Clemson in the fourth round of the 2020 draft. All he’s done since is climb four levels in one season and make his major-league debut for the eventual champions in the final weekend before the postseason.

“The vision I had for the season, I did way better than that at a couple points,” Strider said. “It was definitely a special season.”

But he wasn’t always destined for a meteoric rise. The Braves helped him adjust, enabling him to leap from Low-A to the majors in months.

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“When I came into spring last year, I was sort of all over the place,” Strider said. “I was trying to do way too many things, got away from what I was good at. And they redirected me and narrowed my focus on a fastball and slider. They told me I’d be in Low-A, and that sort of took the weight off my shoulders to not try to do too much. That ultimately opened things up for me to have a lot of success.”

Strider was the Gatorade Player of the Year for Tennessee his senior year of high school. He became a freshman All-American at Clemson, piling up strikeouts as a starter and reliever. His 12.35 strikeouts per nine innings ranked fourth best in Clemson history.

“The vision I had for the season, I did way better than that at a couple points. It was definitely a special season."

- Braves pitcher Spencer Strider, on his 2021 campaign

When the Braves selected Strider, then a draft-eligible sophomore, he’d made four appearances over two years because he missed the 2019 season following Tommy John surgery. He compiled 63 innings in college.

“Just going through all the changes last year, and a lot of instability, helped me figure out my routine a lot more,” Strider said. “Understanding how to pitch in adverse circumstances that I hadn’t really experienced in college or high school. I didn’t pitch a ton.”

Strider made his spring debut Tuesday, pitching two scoreless innings and striking out three Twins. At times he overwhelmed hitters. Twenty of Strider’s 29 pitches exceeded 96 mph. He hit 100 mph four times.

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“We saw a big arm in him last year during the brief look we got,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I like him a lot. I’ve been very impressed with a lot of our young guys we’ve seen in this camp, and he’s one of them.”

Strider spent last season using primarily his fastball and slider, at the Braves’ recommendation. He first was trying to throw the curveball, change-up and slider, admitting that none was particularly effective.

The Braves wanted him to narrow his focus to two pitches, which he said unlocked the player he became. His third pitch, a change-up, has come along well.

“It’s really good,” Strider said. “It’s never going to be a pitch I think I’ll throw more than 10% of the time in a game, but I definitely feel confident in it and have it in my pocket when I need it. When I start getting through a lineup once or twice, three times, it’s going to be helpful.”

While Strider spent almost the entirety of last season as a starter, his makeup suggests he could become a bullpen weapon. It’s possible, if not likely, that whenever he returns to Truist Park, it will be as a reliever.

“I’m fine with whatever role,” Strider said. “I look at being in big-league camp more as an opportunity to face some great competition and get some good feedback, develop my pitches and get ready for the season in whatever capacity that is.”