With promising futures, Braves trio reflects on journey
All-Stars Freeman, Teheran and Kimbrel look back at growing pains in Minors
MINNEAPOLIS -- As the contract extensions they received this year attested, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Julio Teheran represent a significant core of the Braves' future. But it is the past they share that will provide this talented trio even more reason to appreciate the chance to experience this year's All-Star Game together.
While Freeman vividly remembers when Kimbrel's lack of command earned him a demotion at the Class A level, Kimbrel remembers that his short experience with Rookie Level Danville in 2008 allowed him to be introduced to a 17-year-old Teheran who was throwing harder than him at the time.
"He was throwing 98, 99 mph, but wasn't a pitcher," Kimbrel said of Teheran. "He's more of a pitcher now. He knows, he understands how to attack hitters and go out there and pitch, even when he doesn't have his best stuff."
Likewise, Freeman remembers the days when Kimbrel was much more of a thrower than a pitcher. After spending the entire 2008 season together with Class A Rome, Kimbrel and Freeman both began the '09 season with Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach. But after just eight appearances, Kimbrel was sent back to Rome, where he spent the next six weeks developing the command that has allowed him to become the game's most dominant closer.
"Pretty hard to believe, huh?" Freeman said. "You could always tell he had a special arm though."
Two years after experiencing that midseason demotion back, Kimbrel earned what now stands as four consecutive All-Star Game selections. This is Freeman's second selection and the first for Teheran, who appeared to be wearing a permanent smile as he met with reporters on Monday afternoon and then went to Target Field to enjoy batting practice before the Gillette Home Run Derby.
"Being here is something I've been dreaming of since I was a little kid," Teheran said. "I can't believe that I'm here. But this is something that I've been working for. It was one of my goals when I signed this season. My next goal is to try to be the Cy Young [Award] winner."
While Teheran does not necessarily mean that he wants to win the National League Cy Young Award this season, it is not completely out of the realm of possibility. Just two years removed from experiencing a humbling season at Triple-A Gwinnett, the 23-year-old right-hander has continued to find success with his transformation from thrower to pitcher.
Despite combining to allow nine earned runs in his past two starts, Teheran entered the break sixth in the NL with a 2.71 ERA. He has allowed two earned runs or less in 14 of his 20 starts.
"It's been fun to watch him grow up over the past couple of years," said former Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, who celebrated his 39th birthday on Monday while soaking in his fourth All-Star selection and first since he was one of five Atlanta players selected in 2010.
Hudson's latest All-Star selection comes essentially a week shy of the one-year anniversary of the horrific right ankle fracture he suffered while covering first base for the Braves at Citi Field. As he was carted off the field, he unceremoniously ended a nine-year stint during which he became a beloved member of the Braves' organization.
When the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Freeman saw Hudson on Monday afternoon, he jumped on him and nearly knocked the veteran pitcher down.
"Everything happens for a reason," Hudson said. "I still love those guys and I'll always keep up with the Braves. It's just nice to get a chance to spend some time with those guys this week."
When Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine exited Atlanta, they passed the torch to the likes of Chipper Jones and Hudson. Now that they have parted ways to every link of their celebrated past, the Braves are hoping Freeman, Kimbrel and Teheran help carry them toward an equally rewarding future.
"It's pretty cool to think that we're all here just a few months after getting those [contract extensions]," Freeman said. "Hopefully this is just the first of many All-Star Games that we share together."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.