SURPRISE, Ariz. — His was not a typical childhood, and not because of a surname that might have been problematic for someone less secure or unable to defend himself. No, what separated Joey Terdoslavich from other pre-teens in Sarasota, Fla., was how he spent afternoons and evenings.
“Dad would take off work early,” he says, smiling as he tells the story. “I mean, ever since I was in elementary school, he would come and pick me up from school, right after school, and he would take me to the batting cages. Every single day. My mom left when I was younger. What mom would let the son and dad go out there till 9:30 at night?
“I would have my uncle come out to the Little League field and turn the lights on, because he was an electrician and knew how to do it. He’d turn the lights on for us to hit in the cages till 9 or 10 o’clock at night.”
Not that he regrets it. Quite the contrary.
Terdoslavich, who turned 23 in September, is thankful that his dad, Joe, pushed him for untold hours way back then, as he began developing into what he is today: a bona fide major-league prospect for the Braves, a switch-hitting first baseman/third baseman whose stock has continued to ascend with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League.
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After hitting .286 with 20 home runs and 52 doubles — he broke a 65-year-old Carolina League doubles record — for high-Class A Lynchburg in 2011, Terdoslavich has kept hammering in the prospect-laden AFL, batting .348 with 11 extra-base hits (three homers) and a .427 on-base percentage in 17 games through Monday.
He stood out in Saturday’s AFL Rising Stars game, going 3-for-3 with a double and a three-run homer in the West Division’s 11-2 win against the East.
“A natural hitter,” said an assistant general manager of a National League team, who asked not to be identified when discussing a player from another organization. “Some guys just can hit — the old scouting saying that hitters hit. Well, this guy hits. He makes it look easy. The barrel finds the ball, all the cliche things you can say about a hitter.
“I don’t know if anybody will ever spell his name right, but he can hit. I just got to where I would just write a capital T. That was enough.”
Terdoslavich is a Ukrainian name, which his family pronounces Ter-DAH-sla-vich. “Terdo” played his freshman season at the University of Miami and one season at Long Beach State before the Braves took him in the sixth round of the 2010 June draft.
After hitting .302 with a .355 on-base percentage, but only two homers in 70 games for rookie-league Danville and low-A Rome in 2010, Terdoslavich’s line-drive swing and emerging power produced big numbers at Lynchburg in his first full season of pro ball.
He led the Carolina League with 74 extra-base hits in 131 games, finished second in OPS (.867) and tied for third in home runs, and was fourth in RBIs (84).
“He really has a chance to be a good hitter, especially from the left side,” said a veteran American League scout. “He has a really smooth swing, especially from the left.”
Another NL team scout said, “There’s more rhythm left-handed. He still has the same hand-eye coordination from the other side, but there’s more rhythm to it from the left, and when there’s more rhythm it’s just easier to make the adjustments. But he can hit from both sides.”
He wasn’t listed among the Braves’ top 10 prospects in a just-released ranking by Baseball America, but another NL scout said he should have been.
“I would say even the Braves would go back and redo their list — with the way he’s come on during the fall league he’d be on it,” said the NL assistant GM.
After playing mostly first base at Lynchburg — Joe Leonard played third base for the Hillcats — the Braves plan to use Terdoslavich primarily at third base in 2012, likely starting the season at Double-A Mississippi. He played primarily third base in high school and college and played the corner outfield positions one summer in the Cape Cod League.
“Whatever way I can get there, I’m willing to do,” said Terdoslavich, who is nearly 6-foot-2 and played last season at 213 pounds, up 38 pounds since high school. “Whether it’s first, third, left field, right field — it doesn’t matter. I just want a chance, an opportunity. Whatever they ask me to do, I’m ready to try to get better at.”
The Braves think his defense is good enough to play either corner infield position, but they look set at first base for quite some time with Freddie Freeman, a leading candidate for the NL Rookie of the Year award that will be announced Monday.
Veteran third baseman Chipper Jones will be 40 in April and in the final year of his contract in 2012, and hasn’t indicated much desire to play beyond next season (he has a vesting option in 2013.) The Braves haven’t come out and said Terdoslavich could be an option to replace Jones, but if he continues the progress he made last season, it would seem a possibility.
“He’s played very well at third and first and is swinging the bat well from both sides of the plate,” said Bruce Manno, Braves assistant GM. “He showed some power [this year]. He’s really stepped it up offensively, and we’re really pleased with the fact that when he has played third base, he’s played very well there.
“[Lynchburg manager] Luis [Salazar] was very impressed with him when he played third. He thought he had good feet, an accurate arm and moved well when he played third. The staff there felt he could play third, that he had the ability and skill to play there. We’re going to take a real strong look at him playing third base and see how it all shakes out.”
Terdoslavich chuckled when informed that some young Braves fans already like him because of his name and nickname. Some have asked parents for a jersey with Terdo on the back, which he said was better than trying to get his full name on the back of a kid-sized jersey.
“That’s a good start, right?” he said. “[Kids wanting his jersey] would be sweet. They’d have to make the jersey like this [he demonstrates a full arc] for little kids. When I was in Little League, the jersey looking like a rainbow, from one arm all the way around.”
Of the many nicknames he’s heard, including J-Terd, he said, “Terdo’s fine. In college they called me Joe Bear, because they said I had hands like a bear.”
Whatever the nickname or position, he’s just excited to be closer to fulfilling his big-league dream. Terdoslavich was a one-sport athlete at Sarasota High, where baseball coach Clyde Metcalf let the football coach know early on that this one was off limits.
“Baseball-only guy, kind of a gym rat,” Metcalf said. “He’s a guy that loves to hit, loves to work on his skills. This spring he was out at our practices every day, taking ground balls and batting practice, working on it, and thankfully working with our kids. Before he went to spring training. If we had seven hitting groups, he’d hit with every one of them. Didn’t come out of the cage.”
Terdoslavich is a nephew of former Boston Red Sox player Mike Greenwell, but his father grew up near Yankee Stadium, and Joey was reared a Yankees fan.
“I’d always try to wear No. 7 for Mickey Mantle,” Terdoslavich said.
And if that wasn’t available?
“Whenever I can’t get 7, like when I went to Miami my freshman year, I got No. 10, my second-favorite number because of Chipper,” he said. “If I could follow in his footsteps that’d be unbelievable. It’d be awesome.”