Braves' Gilmartin hopes to follow Minor path to majors

PHOENIX — Eight months after Sean Gilmartin pitched his first game of 2011 for Florida State, the Braves' first-round draft pick was still pitching, for the Surprise Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League. It was late October and there were maybe 150 people in the stands at Surprise Stadium, including 27 major league scouts.

A reporter from Atlanta approached a radar-gun-wielding scout for an American League team and asked what he thought of Gilmartin, after the 21-year-old left-hander completed five innings of five-hit ball against the Phoenix Desert Dogs (four or five innings is as many as you’ll see pitchers typically work in the AFL).

“He reminds me of Steve Avery,” the leathery-skinned, 60-ish scout said in a gruff voice, comparing him to a lefty who won 18 games in his first full season for Atlanta in 1991. Avery was 21 at that time, Gilmartin 1.

Avery also went 18-6 with a 2.94 ERA in 1993, the last great year in a career diminished prematurely by injuries.

Told that Gilmartin had patterned himself as a youngster after another former Braves lefty, Tom Glavine, and that Glavine was the comparison made after Gilmartin was selection by the Braves with the 28th pick of the draft, the scout didn’t waver.

“Glavine maybe, the way both are upright [in their delivery],” he replied. “But Avery’s the guy he reminds me of stuff-wise. Glavine finished his pitches better than this guy. Steve Avery, that’s all I can tell you.”

Being compared to Avery? Gilmartin humbly accepted the compliment, as he had comparisons to Glavine, a 300-game winner.

Gilmartin was 5 or 6 years old when his dad, Paul Gilmartin, starting telling him to pay close attention to Braves pitchers when Atlanta’s games were on TBS. The Gilmartins watched at home in Moorpark, Calif., about halfway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

Sean’s brother, Michael, a 23-year-old infielder in the Oakland Athletics organization, had 14 homers and 75 RBIs last season for high-Class A Stockton.

“My dad had me sit down in front of the TV whenever Glavine, [Greg] Maddux and [John] Smoltz pitched,” Sean Gilmartin said, smiling during a pregame workout a couple days later at Phoenix. “I learned pretty much all of them.”

Paul Gilmartin was a former first baseman who played five seasons of minor league ball. He went to three big-league spring trainings with Seattle and San Francisco, but never made it above Single-A. Hit .307 one season, but had no power.

He wanted to make sure his sons understood baseball’s finer points.

“We had opportunity here in Southern California to see all the Braves games on cable,” he said. “That’s how we saw baseball. I loved listening to Vin Scully call Dodgers games, but team-wise [Gilmartin’s sons] were always associated with the Braves. They loved Chipper Jones, loved Smoltz. They sat down and watched all the Braves games, but when Glavine pitched, I had [Sean] pay especially close attention.

“From a control standpoint and semblance of knowing where his pitches are going to be thrown, I think Sean is more along the lines of Glavine.”

This year as a Florida State junior, Gilmartin went 12-1 with a 1.83 ERA, 122 strikeouts and only 20 walks in 113 1/3 innings. He didn’t have much time to pitch at the end of the minor league season after contract talks, but made a good impression when he did.

He gave up two runs in two innings of a rookie-ball start in the Gulf Coast League following his one-month layoff after the draft, then posted a 2.53 ERA in five starts for Single-A Rome while totaling 30 strikeouts with just two walks in 21 1/3 innings.

“Everything was working,” Gilmartin said. “Basically it was a continuation of what I’d done in college. I’ve done pretty well transitioning that over here to the fall league, but it’s tough to compare that level of competition to the level of competition you see here. You’ve got the best of the best [prospects] out here in the Arizona Fall League.”

One of the lesser experienced pitchers in the fall league, Gilmartin more than held his own, going 2-1 with a 4.34 ERA in eight games (seven starts). Six of his 14 earned runs allowed came in one three-inning start; he was 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA in his other games.

“He really has a feel for pitching,” said a senior advisor and former scouting director for another American League team. “He throws strikes, commands all four pitches. And for him to come in here after just being drafted this summer, and to be facing Double-A and Triple-A hitters and doing what he’s doing — it’s really impressive.”

Because Gilmartin doesn’t overpower hitters — his fastball is in the low-90 mph range — many draft experts predicted he wouldn’t be taken until late in the second round. His command of four pitches separates him from many prospects, and the Braves cited that and his maturity as reasons for taking him in the first round.

“That [AFL] is a good test,” Braves assistant general manager Bruce Manno said, “because it’s a league where there’s obviously good hitters and good pitchers. And so when guys can go out there and perform well, it’s been a good indicator. We thought he’d go out and do well because of his mix of pitches and his command of all his pitches.”

Manno said the Braves won’t decide where Gilmartin will begin the 2012 season until they see him at spring training. Some believe Gilmartin could be on a fast trick to the majors similar to lefty Mike Minor, who was drafted out of Vanderbilt in June 2009 and made his big-league debut in 2010 after the Braves had some injuries.

As his pitching coach at Rome and also in the fall league, Derrick Lewis has seen Gilmartin pitch more than anyone else has in the Braves organization.

“He’s a sharp kid and he loves to compete,” Lewis said. “He knows what he wants to do. He can be doing something and then might have to make an adjustment, and he’s not afraid to make some changes. And he’s really into the game, even when he’s not playing. He’s mature.”

Gilmartin knows how quickly Minor made it to the majors.

“I’ve definitely looked at that,” he said. “It’s exciting to think about, if I’m that close. I feel as though I’m that close. I’ve got confidence in myself that I am that close.”

Top prospects in the Arizona Fall League

(As selected by AFL managers and coaches)

Outfielders, Ariz. team/Pro franchise Comment

Bryce Harper, Scottsdale/Nationals 6 HRs, 26 RBI, hit safely in 19 of final 20 games, hit .403

Michael Choice, Phoenix/Athletics 6 HRs, 4th in slugging pct, homered in 4 of first 5 games

Robbie Grossman, Mesa/Pirates 7 HRs, 20 walks, third in hits, leadoff HR three times

Kevin Mattison/ Surprise Marlins Tied for lead in triples (5), seconds in runs scored (29)

Adam Eaton, Salt River/D'backs Led league with 31 runs scored, second in hits with 42

Wil Myers, Surprise/Royals 20 walks, 5 triples, second in on-base pct, third in slugging

Third basemen

Nolan Arenado, Salt River/Rockies League MVP, second in league with 33 RBI, led in hits 47

Joe Terdoslavich, Surprise/Braves Led hitting in Oct. (.404), 10 multi-hit games

Mike Olt, Surprise/Rangers Led league in home runs (13), RBI (43) and slugging (.764)

Shortstops

Junior Lake, Mesa /Cubs Led league in stolen bases with 18, second-most since 2000

Brandon Crawford, Scottsdale/Giants Hit .338, had 16-game hitting streak

Second basemen

Joe Panik, Scottsdale/Giants Hit .439 in November, hit safely in 18 of final 21 games

Brian Dozier, Mesa/Twins 27 runs scored, eight doubles, 22 RBI

First baseman

Matt Adams, Peoria/Cardinals Impressive despite an injury, 14 RBI in one eight-game streak

Catchers

Christian Bethancourt Surprise/Braves Hit .306 with 5 HR, 13 RBI; league-high 154 putouts among catchers

Derek Norris, Scottsdale/Nationals 17-game on-base streak, .471 caught-stealing percentage

Designated hitters

Jedd Gyorko, Peoria/Padres League batting champ at .437, second-best in league history

Josh Vitters, Mesa/Cubs Hit safely in 21 of 24 games, averaged .360

Starting pitchers

Danny Hultzen, Peoria/Mariners Third in ERA at 1.40; 18-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio

Terry Doyle, Mesa/White Sox Won 4 consecutive stars; pitcher of week three times

Relievers

Brad Boxberger, Phoenix/Reds Tied for 2nd in saves (3), finished 10 games

Jacob Diekman, Scottsdale/Phillies Opponents' average of .079, began with 7 1/3 hitless innings