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Touki Toussaint’s July keeps getting better as he earns Future Stars spot

Touki Toussaint was trying to take a mid-afternoon nap, expecting a laid-back weekend before making his second Triple-A start Monday. 

Less than a few hours later, he was in Washington, D.C. preparing to play for the World Team in the 2018 All-Star Futures Game on Sunday. He represented Haiti, where he spent most of the first six years of his life.

Toussaint is another of the seemingly endless list of emerging Braves pitching prospects. He’s already renowned for a deadly curveball, complemented by a four-seamer, two-seamer and changeup.

Around 3 p.m. Saturday, the Braves called Toussaint asking if he’d be interested in the Futures Game. A spot opened up at the last minute when Indians catching prospect Francisco Mejia was recalled to the majors.

Toussaint’s family was coming to see him pitch Monday for Triple-A Gwinnett, but the newly minted Striper informed them he was ticketed for the nation’s capital. His flight was booked for 7:45 p.m.

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“That was definitely a run, but it’s fun,” he said.

The World Team was managed by Red Sox legend David Ortiz, with elected Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero serving as hitting coach. It’s an opportunity for the game’s most promising youngsters to learn from all-time greats and each other.

Entering in the eighth inning Sunday, Toussaint allowed a triple to Powder Springs native and Reds prospect Taylor Trammell, who also homered earlier in the game. After Ke’Bryan Hayes lined out, Joe Adell’s sacrifice fly plated a run. Toussaint struck out Carter Kieboom to end the inning.

Team USA defeated Team World, 10-6.

“Touki Toussaint, I have nothing but respect for that guy,” Trammell said. “I hear guys up in Double-A in Pensacola talk about the way he pitches to them. You have to hit the fastball, because he has nasty stuff. And his fastball, the thing moves so much. I was very impressed with him today. He’s a very good guy.”

Toussaint earned his promotion with a strikeout-laden 16 starts. He posted a 2.93 ERA with Double-A Mississippi, notching a league-high 107 strikeouts while walking 36 in 86 innings.

It’s been a rewarded encore to a 2017 season that earned Toussaint the organization’s High-A pitcher of the year award. 

He posted an unimpressive 5.04 ERA in High-A Florida, though his 3.39 FIP suggests he didn’t have much luck. After a late-July promotion to Mississippi, he finished with a 3.18 ERA in 39-2/3 innings.

“It was a good learning experience,” he said. “To be able to do what I did and stay consistent, it’s definitely fun to look back on.”

His curveball continues to be lauded by scouts and evaluators, a pitch he realized would be his calling card around his sophomore or junior year, the latter of which earned him MaxPreps All-American honors.

The Diamondbacks drafted Toussaint No. 16 overall in the 2014 draft. The Braves acquired him the next season as compensation for absorbing Bronson Arroyo’s bloated salary.

As such, Toussaint is often viewed as a figurehead to the pitching-emphasized rebuild orchestrated by former general manager John Coppolella. The Braves, with little focus on their wins and losses, took on dead weight to add Toussaint’s promise to their system.

“I feel like it’s helped my career a lot,” Toussaint said. “Just from a maturing standpoint, I’ve matured a lot in this organization. When I first got here, I was like a deer in the headlights, didn’t know what was going on, who I had to impress. And they took me under their wing and said ‘Hey man, just be yourself.’ When you start doing that, you’ll see results. I thank them for believing in me the way they have. It’s been fun.”

Toussaint debuted with Gwinnett on July 5, permitting one run over 6-2/3 innings against the Norfolk Tides. He struck out five and walked three while topping out at 97 mph. Toussaint felt it went well, admitting his fastball command was a tad underwhelming.

The 22-year-old knows he’s on the cusp, even if he won’t allow himself to imagine it.

“No,” Toussaint said when asked if he finds himself thinking of the majors. “Just keep grinding because you never know. You could be at the top of the hill and the hill starts breaking down. So just keeping grinding and wherever it takes me is wherever it takes me.”

Toussaint is in constant contact with several Braves youngsters, including Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Luiz Gohara. They tell him the big leagues are everything he could ask and more, he said.

And former teammate Kyle Wright, who was on the U.S. Team roster, was happy to see Toussaint be acknowledged this weekend.

“I spoke to him this morning before he came and I’ll try to mess with him at some point during the game too,” Wright said. “I couldn’t be happier that he’s here. He obviously deserves it. He’s had a heck of a year and deserves all his success.”

Braves manager Brian Snitker maintains he likes seeing pitching prospects worked in through the bullpen. Toussaint, while groomed as a starter, has been a speculated candidate to join the major-league bullpen later in the year.

It goes without saying Toussaint would just be happy to get the call. But with the Braves hanging around the playoff race, Toussaint could see it as a chance to help the team make the postseason for the first time since 2013.

“I relieved in the fall league and it was fun,” he said. “But whatever to help the team win, honestly. At the end of the day, (you want to) get a championship, get a ring. Then you all look at each other and say, ‘We did it.’”

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