Independent League slugger gets chance with Braves

Beau Torbert had just finished his third season with an Independent League team called the Sioux Falls Pheasants when the phone rang.

Here was this 27-year-old Alabama man doggedly chasing a dream, playing pro baseball in South Dakota, just hoping to get noticed. He had flirted with a .400 batting average all season and finished at .394. Add 38 doubles, 24 homers and 100 RBIs in 95 games. In any league, that's impressive.

At home in Phenix City, Ala., nearly three weeks ago, Torbert took the call. It was the Atlanta Braves on the other end. His response was a predictable one.

Yes, sir, this is Beau. Yes, I'm very interested.

The outfielder agreed to  a minor-league contract with the Braves and will go to spring training trying to earn a spot on their Double-A or Triple-A roster, hoping to eventually land in Atlanta.

"That's the team you grow up liking your whole life -- my parents and grandparents were just fanatics," Torbert said. "Couldn't really ask for more, than to sign with the team you grew up loving."

A 17th-round draft pick of the Houston Astros in 2004, Torbert spent four seasons in that organization and played 32 games in Triple-A before he was released in 2007.

He's savvy enough to know this could be his last opportunity at making the big leagues.

"I don't want it to be my last shot, but I'm kind of realistic," said Torbert, who is stronger and better prepared. However, he's also three years older.

"I'm really grateful for the opportunity," he said. "I just want to make the most of it. I’m at the facility right now, running, hitting and throwing."

Torbert was at the Chattahoochee Valley Baseball Academy in Phenix City, where Gary Head Jr. and Kash Beauchamp are on staff. Head is a friend of Tim Hudson, the Braves pitcher and Phenix City native. Beauchamp is a son of the late Jim Beauchamp, the Braves bench coach for Bobby Cox from 1991 to 2001.

Hudson and Beauchamp put in a good word for Torbert, but the Braves didn't have to be persuaded to take a look at him. Torbert deserved a look after producing such overwhelming stats. He had career-highs in average, homers, RBIs, on-base percentage (.435) and slugging percentage (.684).

He also won his second American Association MVP award in three years and was Baseball America's Independent League player of the year.

"He's put up good numbers in the Independent leagues," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "The numbers have improved each of the past three years. When you look at those kind of players that continue to improve and put up numbers, I think it's worth taking a look."

Torbert morphed into a slugger at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, which was 25 pounds heavier than his leadoff-hitting days in the Astros organization.

He hit .301 with eight home runs and an .857 OPS in Class A in 2005, and .305 with 31 doubles and 24 steals in 119 games in high-A in 2006.

But after his production slipped during the next two seasons spent mostly in Double-A, Torbert was released. He was also released by the Detroit Tigers in 2009 spring training, following his first MVP season with Sioux Falls.

He's racked up 55 homers and 231 RBIs in 240 games during three seasons with Sioux Falls after totaling 14 homers and 144 RBIs in four seasons in the Astros organization.

"I always had power, but didn't realize how to use it 'til I got to Indy ball," said Torbert, who moves well despite his size. "[I] wanted to be that kind of player who could still run, not just have power."