Braxton Garrett remembers a conversation he had with a minor-league teammate the day after spring training ended this past year.
After missing most of 2017 and all of 2018 with an arm injury that required Tommy John surgery, the left-hander Garrett was healthy and ready to return to pitching and was assigned to the Jupiter Hammerheads, the Advanced-A team in the Miami Marlins organization.
“I told somebody ‘Man, it just feels nice to be on a team,’” Garrett recalled Monday.
The 2016 Florence High grad, who was picked seventh overall in the 2016 MLB draft, made the most of his first full minor-league season. He went 6-6 with a 3.34 earned run average over 105 innings pitched.
Garrett, 22, should be pleased with that ERA, but getting to pitch that much was the biggest thing he had in mind to start the year.
“The goal this year was to make every start,” he said.
Garrett did so, making 20 starts at the Advanced-A level and one at the Double-A level. Last month, Garrett was named the Jupiter Hammerheads’ team MVP for 2019.
“I was really grateful, just because our team had some very great pitchers on it that could have won that award as well. Hitters, too,” he said. “ … It was nice to be honored there at the end.”
Garrett said he had no fear of aggravating his arm this season, though he acknowledged being a little nervous in hopes he would have a full year of good health.
Garrett, who throws a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball, struck out 118 batters this season and walked 37.
“I struck out a lot of people. That was nice. Also, the development of my two-seam was really good. I got a lot of ground balls,” he said.
“I’d like to get the walks down and have better fastball command.”
Next year he’ll emphasize improving his changeup, which he said is the best it’s ever been.
“When it was there (this year) I pitched a lot better,” Garrett said. “I learned a lot of things this year. It was a great year.”
It was also educational because Garrett got to spend a full year facing professional hitters, and he learned a lot about preparing for a game and maintaining strength throughout the year.
Garrett was promoted to Double-A Jacksonville at the end of August and made his one and only start with the Jumbo Shrimp on August 29.
Since then he’s had a chance to visit family and friends and rest. He lives in Palm Beach Gardens and has already starting a weightlifting program personalized to get him ready for 2020. The Marlins will have him start throwing soon after the new year.
It’s impossible to know how far Garrett might be able to advance in 2020, but the Marlins no doubt have big plans for their top pick from three years ago. If Garrett opened with the Double-A team in 2020, he’d be two steps away from the big-league team.
“It’s always a possibility,” he said, when asked about pitching in the majors next year. “If you play well, if you’re better than everybody else, you’ll be in that spot.
“Obviously that’s our goal, so that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
After two seasons without a chance to make progress, Garrett is pleased he got to play with a team and take advantage of opportunities in 2019.
Now his family and friends in the Shoals – along with decision-makers in the Marlins organization – hope he can keep it up.
“Just happy with the year, and hope to have a better one next year,” Garrett said.