For Rome Braves pitcher Touki Toussaint, being traded was a dream come true. Really.
Toussaint is among the highly touted prospects that have arrived in the Braves’ farm system in the last 18 months. Reaching Class Single-A Rome took some doing for the 20-year-old. Foremost, it took a player swap just over a year ago that few, excluding Toussaint, saw coming.
Toussaint was drafted with the 16th pick in the 2014 MLB draft by Arizona, a touted right-hander from Pembroke Pines, Fla. But Toussaint struggled in his first year, posting a 8.58 ERA in stops at the Arizona Fall League, Rookie Advanced and Single-A Advanced levels.
Once the season ended, Toussaint started having visions in his sleep. He dreamed more than once that the Diamondbacks traded him, a notion far-fetched for a first-round pick.
“Nobody would believe me,” Toussaint said. “Everybody was like, ‘Come on, you’re not getting traded. You’re their baby.’”
But then Arizona reshaped its front office and some of the people who took Toussaint were no longer in charge. On June 20, 2015, Toussaint and pitcher Bronson Arroyo were dealt to the Braves for infielder Phil Gosselin.
“I actually saw this coming,” Toussaint said.
Toussaint immediately became one of the Braves’ top prospects, although his transition to Rome in the middle of last season wasn’t the smoothest. He struggled with his command, walking 33 batters while striking out 38 in his 10 starts. He finished the compressed campaign with a 2-6 record and a 5.73 ERA.
The situation didn’t improve when this season began. He ran up a 12.66 ERA in first three starts, which included a disastrous showing against Asheville when he gave up seven runs on 10 hits.
That’s when Rome pitching coach Dan Meyer and minor league pitching coordinator Chuck Hernandez sat Toussaint down. He was told to be the aggressor on the mound and to become more consistent with his location. Meyer also recommended tweaks to his delivery.
Meyer found video from Toussaint’s days at Coral Springs Christian Academy and spotted some differences. Toussaint’s arm path had changed and he was shying away from a more natural throwing motion. Meyer also advised him to get his front side up in his delivery and work off his legs more.
All it took for Toussaint was to see the video to realize changes were necessary.
“I’m a visual learner, so when I saw it, it was like, whoa,” Toussaint said. “Ever since then, (the old delivery) is exactly what I went back to, which has helped me a lot.”
Toussaint has seen considerable improvement. Since that outing against Asheville, he allowed more than three runs only once in his next 13 starts.
Meyer compared Toussaint to Padres pitcher Edwin Jackson, who has an All-Star appearance, World Series ring and no-hitter to his credit. Along with a mid-90s mph fastball, Toussaint also has a breaking ball that features a violent snap, which can track from a hitter’s wheelhouse to his shins.
The pieces may be there for Toussaint to thrive, but he still has plenty of work to do. Rome manager Randy Ingle said he’s looking for more consistency and Toussaint said he wants to start getting more outs via balls in play.
With just under three years of minor-league pitching to his credit, Toussaint has ample time left to grow into the pitcher the Braves hope he becomes. His trek to the top will not happen overnight, but he knows what he’s signed up for.
“There’s going to speed bumps along the way,” Toussaint said. “You’ve just got to overcome those and keep going.”
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