The Ones That Got Away: Kris Medlen

By Robbie Knopf

Way back in 2003, the Rays took a 37th round flier on a little 5’10” right-hander with a solid sinker out of Gahr High School in California. His name was Kris Medlen. Medlen didn’t sign and wound up getting drafted in the 10th round by the Atlanta Braves in 2006 out of Santa Anna College. Medlen tore up the minors for three years before making the majors with the Braves in 2009, going 3-5 with a 4.26 ERA, a 9.6 K/9, a 4.0 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 33 relief appearances, 4 starts, and 67.2 IP. Medlen then showed steady improvement as he split time between starting and relieving in 2010, going 6-2 with a 3.68 ERA, a 6.9 K/9, a 1.8 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9 in 14 starts, 17 relief appearances, and 107.2 IP. But then he injured his elbow, necessitating Tommy John Surgery that sidelined him for all but 2.1 innings in 2011.

With Medlen fresh off of Tommy John, the Braves didn’t know what he would give them in his first year back and decided to use him as a reliever to begin the year. The Braves decided to use him in a Wade Davis-esque matter, using him anywhere from short relief to 3 or 4 innings, and he pitched well, posting a 2.48 ERA, a 6.0 K/9, a 2.2 BB/9, and a 0.2 HR/9 in 38 appearances and 54.1 IP before injuries opened up a spot in the Braves rotation. Since converting back to a starter, Medlen has been unhittable, going 6-0 with a 0.54 ERA, a 9.1 K/9, a 0.9 HR/9, and a 0.2 HR/9 in 7 starts and 49.2 innings, running off a streak of 34.1 scoreless innings at one point including two complete games, one a shutout and the other a 12-strikeout game in which he allowed just an unearned run. Medlen makes his 8th start today as he looks to continue his ridiculous run.

In all honesty (sorry Braves fans), Medlen, who turns 27 in October, is not this good but he’s still an impressive pitcher. He throws a low-90’s sinker that doesn’t miss any bats but forces groundballs, and he has gone on such a ridiculous run thanks to otherworldly command of his big 11-to-5 curveball and outstanding changeup. The curveball isn’t a good match with his fastball as both of them have more big action than sharp, dynamic movement, but the way he’s commanding the curveball, it hasn’t mattered. Medlen is certainly not anywhere near this dominant, but he has crafted himself into a formidable major league pitcher and has really kept the Braves afloat of late.

If Medlen had somehow signed, the Rays would have taken it slow with him and given him every chance to prove himself, but considering how raw he was back then, it’s extremely unlikely that he ever would have made it to the big leagues, let alone like this. It’s just an interesting footnote that just the way it works out, the ex-Rays draft pick’s money pitch is his changeup, a pitch we know the Rays emphasize so much. Good luck to Medlen moving forward and maybe we’ll get to see him in the World Series or (more likely) Interleague play someday and see what the Rays could have had.