LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez came to spring training with an open mind about the final bullpen spot or two, and the first dark-horse candidate to catch his eye is sidearmer Gus Schlosser.
“So far he has been the talk of the coaching staff in here,” Gonzalez said Monday, after watching Schlosser retire six of the seven batters he faced in two scoreless innings against the Mets.
Schlosser doesn’t carry the clout of a high-round, top dollar draft pick. He’s a 17th round pick who signed for $3,000, losing leverage because he was a senior at Florida Southern when he was drafted. But all he’s done since joining the Braves organization is succeed.
Schlosser, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander was named organizational pitcher of the year in each of his last two stops in the minor leagues — High-A Lynchburg in 2012 and Double-A Mississippi last year, where he went 7-6 with a 2.39 ERA in 35 starts.
Now he’s busy planting ideas in Gonzalez’s head. “For where we are in spring training, he was impressive,” he said.
Schlosser, 25, is in major league camp for the second time as a non-roster invitee. He posted a 1.50 ERA in five appearances last spring. So this time, with even fewer butterflies and more comfort in his surroundings, he struck out Danny Worth on three pitches in his first outing last week against Detroit.
“It was almost funny to me to strike out a guy on three pitches,” said Schlosser, who is usually most effective pitching to contact.
The rest of the results haven’t surprised him much though.
“I’ve always held myself to pretty high expectations so succeeding doesn’t really necessarily surprise me,” Schlosser said. “But it is nice to come up here and succeed right away knowing that hey I can do this.”
That’s not to say he came in expecting to win a major league job. The normal trajectory would have Schlosser starting the season in Triple-A Gwinnett. Now he’s at least on the radar for major league time.
“I was excited I got the invite again but thinking I would make the team is still not really in my thought process,” Schlosser said. “I’m just trying to get better, show them I’m capable of succeeding up here. Whatever happens happens.”
Schlosser has been throwing with a sidearm delivery Gonzalez calls “funky” since a coach suggested it his sophomore year in junior college. He’s a rare sidearmer who has been effective enough against lefties to start for his past two minor league seasons.
“I was having trouble one, getting people out, two just repeating my mechanics from a higher arm angle,” Schlosser said. “And when I dropped down for some reason it just felt natural to me. I started thinking back, when I was younger, it was always easier for me to just flip the ball from the side. But Dad always yelled at me.”
Schlosser said his dad is getting a kick out of it now. And so is another sidearmer of note in Braves camp, former closer Gene Garber, who is serving as a special instructor.
“You want somebody who can throw strikes and get people out,” Garber said. “And this is his second spring so he’s comfortable. He’s not intimidated by anything. It’s different. It’s not conventional. But that doesn’t mean it won’t work.”