Touki Toussaint left his phone in the car the night of June 20 — no ringtone distractions wanted.
He was celebrating his 19th birthday with his family and roommate at a pizza place in Kane County, Ill. Just 24 hours earlier, he had pitched the best six innings of his pro career, allowing no runs on one hit with five strikeouts for Arizona’s Single-A team.
Meanwhile, over in Atlanta the Braves were finalizing a midnight trade to bring the birthday guy to their farm system.
“(My) pitching coach called (my roommate) and said, ‘Hey are you with Touki? … Hand him the phone,’” Toussaint recently said after his fourth start with the Rome Braves. “He was like, ‘Hey can I tell you something? … You got traded to the Braves.’ It’s surprising, but it’s business. … I feel like it’s a new opportunity to prove who I am.”
Who he is — a 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-hander with a 95-mph fastball and a violent, somewhat unpredictable curveball.
He is also raw. He “threw hard” a couple times on the mound as a high school freshman, but he started actually learning how to pitch his sophomore year — just four years ago.
“He’s a typical low-A pitcher,” Rome pitching coach Gabriel Luckert said. “Fastball command is inconsistent, first and foremost. We have to get him to have consistency, and then command of his secondary stuff. … Is he a big-league prospect? Yes, I think he is. But he has a long way to go.”
The trade was widely viewed as a steal for the Braves. They gave up Phil Gosselin and took on Bronson Arroyo’s $9.5 million contract for Toussaint, the former No. 16 pick and Baseball America’s No. 71 minor-league prospect.
Fast forward three weeks, and Toussaint said he’s developed as much with Rome as he did in a full year with Arizona’s farm system.
“Our side works are more in-depth,” he said. “It’s not just like, throw a side and get ready for your next start and that’s it. It’s like, ‘All right, some pitches you were doing this,’ like (Luckert) will work with me with tempo. Like sing a song or small little things to help you out.”
He mentioned tempo — an issue for Toussaint, who used to rush his wind up and fall to the left after the follow-through. On video he resembled a puppet getting yanked around after each pitch. Luckert said he started working with Toussaint on his mechanics speed and balance after his third start.
His fourth and most recent start: No puppet strings. Or, at least they were held by a much weaker puppeteer.
“Coach Gabe was just like, ‘Hey, you need to slow down your tempo. You’re always trying to go too fast and too hard,” Toussaint said. “… (That’s) definitely helped with control. Now I know if something goes wrong, I know how that feels.”
Toussaint is 2-1 with a 4.19 ERA with Rome. The Braves hope his slower mechanics and improved balance will translate to fewer walks. He averaged nearly 4 1/2 per nine innings with Arizona’s farm system and has 12 so far with Rome.
But even with control kinks, this kid oozes potential.
“You know when I see a guy like him, he resembles (Michael) Pineda, the guy with the Yankees,” Luckert said. “ … (Pineda) looks like a big guy, I know he’s like 6-4, 6-5, 220-something. … Touki’s pretty good — 6-4 frame, but his arm is comparable to any of the big guys in the big leagues right now because he’s got good arm speed. He’s got good finish to the baseball and hopefully he can stay healthy.”
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.