News 3 days ago

During offseason workouts, Frederick grad Hyssong sets example for others

The Frederick News-Post — Joe Ferraro The Frederick News-Post, Md.

Feb. 17--The Atlanta Braves' minor league system change means Taylor Hyssong won't endure any chilly, early-April games if he plays Advanced Class A baseball. The down side: Hyssong, a Frederick High graduate who last summer played rookie-level baseball for the Danville Braves in Virginia, won't have the chance to play near his old stomping grounds.

Over the past two years, the Braves' Advanced Class A team had been the Carolina League's Carolina Mudcats, requiring trips to Potomac, Virginia, and Frederick to play the Potomac Nationals and Frederick Keys, respectively. The Braves' new Advanced Class A team, the Florida Fire Frogs, will play in the Florida State League, with all 12 of the league's teams based in Florida.

"It's nicer weather, but I'd rather have played in the Carolina League because it's closer to home," the 23-year-old Hyssong said just before starting an offseason workout Wednesday in Frederick. "But it's something I can't control."

But after completing his first professional baseball season, Hyssong has found some delight in knowing he can still come home and partake in baseball activities -- and impart some knowledge on some who might want to follow in his footsteps.

Hyssong expressed some concern over finding a facility suited for engaging in an offseason workout regimen over the winter. Through some networking, the left-hander's mother, Cherie, lent a helping hand.

One of Cherie's former high school classmates, Chip Stitely, serves as an assistant coach for the Frederick Sluggers, a travel baseball program that currently has teams at the 14-and-under and 16-and-under levels. Sluggers baseball competition starts in April and runs through August, but players can stay sharp throughout the season thanks in large part to Jeremy Bitler, the father of Sluggers 16-and-under team member Collin Bitler. Two years ago, Jeremy built a barn just to the east of his home in Frederick, where players can practice on AstroTurf-covered space measuring 80 feet long and 30 feet wide. The facility, which can be heated in the winter, includes a makeshift AstroTurf-covered mound -- Hyssong has used it four times for bullpen sessions during which he throws between 25 and 40 pitches -- and netting used for batting and pitching.

Hyssong, who went 0-0 with a 1.56 ERA over 11 relief appearances for the Danville Braves, has tried to address some short-term goals as he gets in his work at the facility before he reports to the Braves' spring training facility in Kissimmee, Florida, on March 4. But he also enjoyed being a "role model" and addressing members of Sluggers program during a motivational speech.

"It's good to know that I'm giving back to the kids," said Hyssong, who emphasized with the Sluggers that coaches looking for future collegiate players value strong academics. "I was in the same position when I was their age."

Thomas Johnson sophomore Michael McGee, who has caught Hyssong during the latter's bullpen sessions, said the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Hyssong stressed the importance of leaning on a strong work ethic when faced with adversity during baseball's journeys. Hyssong's journey to professional baseball found him bouncing from Pitt Community College in Winterville, North Carolina, to the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, where he began as a starting pitcher but endured a demotion to the bullpen. Throughout it all, Hyssong stuck with the sport, leading to him being drafted by the Braves in the eighth round last year.

"It wasn't really the easiest road to take, and knowing how hard it is, it's pretty crazy," McGee said. "It's not going to be easy."

Hyssong displays some of that work ethic before his bullpen sessions.

Sluggers pitcher Connor Cramer, a junior at Catoctin, has come away impressed with how seriously Hyssong approaches his craft, saying he doesn't invest nearly as much time stretching as Hyssong before he pitches. Before throwing a bullpen session on Wednesday, Hyssong spent between 10 and 15 minutes stretching -- first on the ground and then upright while using pitching bands. Then he proceeded to play catch with McGee starting about 20 feet away from the TJ catcher and then slowly backing up before eventually using the makeshift pitching mound.

Hyssong estimates putting in between 15 and 30 minutes of preparation time before putting forth maximum effort on a mound.

"He doesn't [take any shortcuts]," Cramer said. "He's always going hard on everything."

Sluggers 16-and-under coach Mikey Lee and his players watch intently when Hyssong hops onto the makeshift mound and begins his bullpen sessions. They often watch in awe as they see curveballs and change-ups darting away from the corners of the plate. What becomes most impressive, Lee said, is that Hyssong's secondary pitches appear as if they're fastballs coming out of his hand because of Hyssong's ability to repeat the same delivery he uses to throw fastballs for each of his four pitches. Hyssong also throws a slider.

"His speed and movement, it's completely different than everything I've caught before," McGee said.

When asked where the Braves might assign him for the 2017 season, Hyssong said his options range from rookie ball in Danville to the Advanced Class A Braves. A more likely destination is Rome, Georgia, with the Low Class A Rome Braves, who play approximately 60 miles away from Atlanta.

Over the past six weeks, Hyssong has worked on his mechanics, saying he sometimes gets into a crouch when he pitches instead of staying upright. As for his change-up and curveball, Hyssong would like to throw them more consistently for strikes. In Danville, Hyssong struck out 14 batters and walked seven over 17 1-3 innings, with his fastball consistently sitting between the low- and mid-90s.

"Although it's only rookie ball, it's eye-opening as to how many talented players there are in rookie ball," Hyssong said. "It made me realize that there are a few adjustments I need to make to go to a higher level."

But for the most part, Hyssong viewed his start as a professional player as a positive experience.

"I thought I had a pretty good year, coming straight from college," Hyssong said. "It was pretty surreal to play professionally."


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