Dylan Spain pitched three games in the Florida Coast League before the Atlanta Braves’ rookie league affiliate had seen enough.
Don’t get on the bus, the text said.
It was also best that Spain lived out of a suitcase in Augusta, Ga. After less than a month, the low-A GreenJackets told him to pack his bags.
Next up for the former UH-Hilo ace was Rome, Ga.
Different minor league stop, same stellar story – though it’s one that’s to be continued.
“For the most part, there wasn’t too much feedback in terms of how I was pitching,” Spain said. “It was kind of just put me out there and see how I perform, if I’m ready for the competition, and each time I was out there I was.”
Pitching for the first time in more than two years after being selected as a 10th-round draft pick of the Braves in July, Spain made a smooth transition to pro ball, delivering 17 2/3 scoreless innings in his three stops, while allowing just eight hits. The 6-foot-5 23-year-old struck out 21 batters and walked just two.
“It was just so much fun, I enjoyed the heck out of it,” he said. “You really have to minimize your mistakes (in the minors). My biggest mindset is executing pitches every time I throw it, that’s all I can control.”
He exhibited fine command, especially considering the layoff since he last pitched in Division II college baseball, but about those two walks. The eight pitches offer a glimpse of Spain’s confident mindset.
“I would take them back if I could,” he said. “Both came on four pitches and were kind of mental lapses. Those were mistakes that I can take away from (the experience). Just things to work on and clean up this offseason.”
Spain raised a few eyebrows earlier this year when he decided to ditch his senior season with the Vulcans and return to Oahu to prepare for the draft. He sat out the 2020 campaign as he nursed an arm injury – the season would be cut short by the pandemic – so his last competitive pitch came during the Vulcans’ breakout 2019 season, when he went 5-1 with a 3.80 ERA, striking out 29 batters in 45 innings with 45 hits allowed
“There were a few people that didn’t agree with the decision, but I believed in myself, and that’s ultimately what matters,” he said.
He hit 95-96 MPH on the radar gun for a Braves scout in a predraft workout on Oahu, then he heard his name called in July as the 307th overall selection.
Trying to stretch out his arm, the Braves limited Spain to two pitches – a fastball, he said, that sat at 93-95 miles per hour and topped out at 96, and a cutter that varied from 87-92 – as he worked exclusively from the bullpen, never pitching more than two innings in his 11 appearances. At high-A Rome, he pitched just one inning before the season ended.
Due the constant comings and goings of minor league players, Spain never had a problem finding a place to stay with a teammates during his summer in the South.
“We get taken care of, especially by the Atlanta Braves, they take care of us well,” he said. “Even the fan bases. Before going to the minor leagues, I had never played in front of more than 500 fans. One of my first games there, we had 2,000-plus.
“It’s a whole different level. It’s something I love to do.”
He was back on Oahu earlier this week resting his arm, and he’s due to check back in with the Braves’ organization in Florida in December for strength and conditioning sessions.
If form holds, he’ll open the 2022 minor league season back at Rome, but, Spain said, a strong spring training could change that. He’s already climbed two ranks, albeit at the lowest levels. Another two, and he’d be on the cusp of the majors.
“We’ll see what I can do,” he said. “Hopefully, my (major league) debut, if I can, and take it from there.”
Other Big Isle minor leagues in 2021:
• Kean Wong, 2013 Waiakea graduate: Wong split time between the Los Angeles Angels and their Triple-A affiliate in Salt Lake City. With the Angels, the utility man was 10 for 60 (.167) with six RBIs. At Salt Lake, Wong hit .339 (64-189), with four home runs, 22 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. His OPS (on-base plus slugging) was .860.
• Quintin Torres-Costa, 2012 Waiakea: Seemingly on the cusp of the major leagues in 2018 before suffering an injury that required Tommy John Surgery, Torres-Costa was released by the Nashville Sounds (Brewers, Triple A) in late August. In 2021, the left-hander went 3-1 with a 6.82 ERA, walking 38 batters in 35 2/3 innings. He allowed 32 hits with 50 strikeouts.
• Kodi Medeiros, 2014 Waiakea: The former first-round pick pitched out of the bullpen for Charlotte (White Sox, Triple A), going 1-0 with a 5.52 ERA over 29 1/3 innings. The left-hander struck out 37 but walked 25, allowing 24 hits.
• Micah Bello, 2018 Hilo High: Playing mostly at low-A Carolina (Brewers), the outfielder hit .238 (51-214) with a .684 OPS, hitting four home runs, with 24 RBIs and three steals. Bello spent time on the 60-day injured list from May-July.
• Edgar Barclay, 2014 St. Joseph: Combined between the Yankees’ low-A and high-A affiliates, the right-hander struck out 112 batters in 77 1/3 innings. He finished 4-4 with a 3.49 ERA – 5.69 at high A – and yielded 76 hits and 33 walks.
• Kalai Rosario, 2020 Waiakea: Playing in 51 games in his first pro season with the Twins’ affiliate in the rookie league, the outfielder hit .277 (52-188), with five home runs and 40 RBIs in 51 games. His OPS was .794.
• Ocean Gabonia, 2019 Hilo High: The right-hander spent time on the injured list before being activated by the Yankees’ rookie league team in August to make his pro debut. Gabonia pitched in five games, striking out nine in 9 1/3 innings and registering a 1.93 ERA. He walked seven but allowed only three hits.