A circuitous journey preceded Forrest Wall’s bid for Braves’ final roster spot

NORTH PORT, Fla. – Forrest Wall has a story to tell his grandchildren someday about reaching the major leagues. He debuted on July 22 of last year as a pinch runner for the Braves in Milwaukee. He stole second and third in the ninth inning of a 4-3 loss.

He had played 813 minor-league games over 8 ½ seasons to finally make it to the bigs at the age of 27.

“I think it’s the fastest I’ve ever ran,” Wall said Saturday evening after the Braves’ spring-training game against Pittsburgh at CoolToday Park. “I couldn’t feel my body. It was just awesome.”

The Braves brought him up from Triple-A Gwinnett for much of the second half of the season and then put him on their postseason roster as a base-stealing threat after he had stolen 104 bases in 124 attempts at the Triple-A level in the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

After nine years in the minors, it was the affirmation that he needed that he could earn a spot at the major-league level. This spring, he is in the fight to win the last spot on the roster.

“Honestly, it’s been an extreme blessing to be in this position,” Wall told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Because, prior years, I’d tell myself going into camp, ‘I’ve got a real chance of breaking with the team.’ But this year, I actually have a real chance.”

There is not much in the way of spring-training drama for the six-time defending National League East champions. But in the competition to be the Braves’ 26th man, there’s a spirited contest. Wall’s probable rivals are infielders Luke Williams and David Fletcher.

“Till we tell ‘em otherwise, everybody is in the mix,” manager Brian Snitker said following the team’s 4-2 loss to the Pirates.

Wall’s path to this moment includes a lot of bus rides and cramped locker rooms. He was drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft out of high school in the Orlando, Florida, area by the Rockies. The Braves are his fourth organization.

Toronto Blue Jays' Forrest Wall plays during a spring training baseball game, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

He remembers traveling the Pioneer League in a bus carrying more than 40 teammates with no trip shorter than 6 ½ hours. With wife Brianna, he has encircled the country, chasing a dream as an Asheville Tourist, a Modesto Nut and a New Hampshire Fisher Cat, among others. He liked Asheville. He is less eager to return to Modesto.

“Nothing against Modesto,” he said.

After three seasons – 2020, 2021 and 2022 – he was not retained, cast off into an uncertain future. In February 2023, the Braves signed him to a minor-league contract and invited him to spring training, from where he made the Gwinnett roster.

But before that, “if I wouldn’t have gotten an opportunity in the offseason to go to spring training with a team last year, I think then I kind of would have been like, ‘O.K, maybe what’s next?’” Wall said.

He has kept going out of a love for the game, gratitude for the opportunities he’s received and a sense that he has more talent inside that just needs an opportunity.

“Because I know it’s in there,” he said.

Gwinnett Stripers outfielder Forrest Wall (1) runs home as he scores a run during the fifth inning against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp at Coolray Field, Tuesday, June 20, 2023, in Lawrenceville, Ga.  Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

As he competes for the last roster spot, there is a school of thought that he might be better served in Gwinnett, where he can stockpile at-bats. He’d rather be with the big club.

“I just want to be a piece that the team can plug me in and know that they can trust me to fill the role,” he said. “I think, for me, it’s just, I hope I get the opportunity, and that’s it. If I can get the opportunity, it gives me a chance to go show what I can do.”

He has made a compelling case at the plate thus far this spring. After an 0-for-2 night Saturday, he was hitting .346 with three home runs in 26 at-bats. While an admittedly small sample size, it gets attention. In the past three years, he didn’t hit better than .280 at the Triple-A level. (He did hit .393 last spring with the Braves.)

Wall said that he is reaping the benefits of two offseason visits from Braves hitting coordinator Chris Antariksa and rookie-ball hitting coach Stevie Wilkerson to his home in Palm Harbor, Florida, to adjust his swing.

“When I loaded my hands before, I kind of wiggled the bat twice as a timing mechanism, and now we’ve just turned it into one move so I can repeat it more,” he said. “It’s more consistent and I hit the ball harder a little bit more now.”

Wall said that, in his career, he had never previously had a club send coaches to work privately with him.

“It was really cool that they did that for me and it’s been awesome that it’s been translating on the field,” he said.

Wall’s speed is a separating factor, particularly with the composition of the Braves’ roster. With a starting lineup that likes to play every day, Snitker and general manager Alex Anthopoulos are looking for bench players who can fill specific roles, speed being one of them.

And he has proven himself as a good fit in the clubhouse.

“I’m pulling for Forrest,” pitcher Charlie Morton said. “I love him. I love being around him. I think he’s a great part of the clubhouse when he’s here. I don’t know; he’s just a good dude.”

Said Snitker, “I like Forrest. He did a really good job for us last year when we brought him up.”

The evaluation period is down to its final days. Wall tries not to think about the possibility of making the club, calling it “the elephant in the room.” Wall has shown beyond all doubt that he can persevere in the minors. But it’s up to him, he’d much prefer to make his contributions at Truist Park.

“And so, hopefully, if I get the opportunity again, I can just let it all out,” he said.