August 4, 2010
By David Driver
For the Statesman Journal
Used with permission
Danville, Va. — Salem's Kyle Farrell is a long way from home in Danville, a once-proud textile town that has been hit hard by the economic downturn.
Although his family in Oregon has not been able to visit the minor league baseball player this season, Farrell does have a familiar face on hand as he perseveres in the demanding rigors of the lower levels of pro baseball.
The right-handed pitcher for the Danville Braves was married in February to Ashlei, a fellow 2007 graduate of West Salem High School. The couple have an apartment in Danville, a town just north of the North Carolina border.
Now in his third pro season, Farrell said his wife has been helpful to his career.
"She has helped me stay focused. And I don't have to struggle with a long-distance relationship," said Farrell, the only married player with Danville.
"It has definitely helped. You do miss home, and she is from Salem."
Things have changed on the mound as well for Farrell — and for the better. He entered the 2010 season with an 0-8 record after he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the ninth round in 2008 after one year at Western Nevada College.
"I have pitched well for the majority of the year," Farrell said.
Farrell, 21, is 3-2 with an ERA of 4.36 for Danville in eight games, with four starts. In 33 innings, he has allowed 33 hits (four homers) and six walks with 21 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .256 against him.
Derrick Lewis, Danville's pitching coach, worked some with Farrell during extended spring training in 2009. Lewis said his chang-up has improved since then.
"Kyle is versatile," Lewis said. "He is the type of guy you want to have. He can go five or six innings as a starter or close the game. He has that type of makeup.
"He is not limited to one role. He has command of his fastball. His whole game has improved from top to bottom. He was always a hard worker. His conditioning has gotten better."
Farrell throws a fastball in the low 90s and also has a curve, slider and change-up.
"His fastball command has improved," said Lewis, who pitched in the Braves' system from 1997 to 2003 and made it to Triple A.
Kurt Kemp, the director of player development for Atlanta, said that Farrell stayed behind in Florida for extended spring training when the minors began for full-season teams (the Appalachian League doesn't begin until June).
"He threw 12 innings in extended spring training and allowed no earned runs with 16 strikeouts," Kemp said.
"He carried it over (to Danville). There is no doubt about that. He is throwing better (than 2009). He missed some time with mild back tightness in the second half of extended spring. He threw the ball very well this spring. We were excited about how he was coming along."
Kemp saw Farrell pitch July 9 when he allowed one earned run in 31/3 innings. In his first eight games, Kemp said, he has allowed six earned runs each in two appearances.
In his other six games, he allowed a total of four earned runs.
The next step up the minor league ladder in the Atlanta system is Rome, Ga. in the low Single-A South Atlantic League.
"I think that is very realistic (in the future). He is only 21 years old and signed out of junior college," Kemp said.
Farrell said he expects to stay in the Danville rotation for manager Paul Runge.
"As long as I keep pitching well. He goes with the hot hand," Farrell said of Runge, in his sixth year as the Danville skipper.
Danville catcher Evan Gattis said Farrell "seems to have the stuff to be a starter. He has done well."
It took parts of three seasons, but Farrell got the first win of his pro career June 22 in his first outing of the year in the Appalachian League. He threw four innings at Princeton (W.Va.) and allowed two hits and no runs to get the win against the Rays out of the bullpen.
His next two outings came as a starter, but he went back to the bullpen after allowing 10 hits and six runs in four innings July 4 at Johnson City.
He returned to the rotation July 24 at home against Johnson City and got the win when he allowed three hits and one run in seven innings.
In 2008 he was 0-5 with an ERA of 4.58 in 10 games, with six starts, for the Braves in the Gulf Coast League after getting drafted. Last year, he was back in the Gulf Coast League and was 0-3 with an ERA of 6.92 in 12 games, with five starts.
"All around, the season has gone pretty well," he said. "I have had some rough outings. But other than that, it has been very good. I am trying to enjoy it."
Farrel said the mental aspect of his game is what is important.
"Earlier in my career I had been pressing a lot, trying to be too fine with pitches, trying to nibble (the corners) and not just throw strikes.
"I try to get ahead of guys early. If they hit me, they hit me and if they don't, they don't. I have a slider now. My change-up has been working."
The Atlanta Braves have a strong tradition of developing young pitchers in the minors. Some future big leaguers who have pitched in Danville include all-star Jason Marquis (now with Washington), Kevin McGlinchy and Tommy Hanson, who broke into "The Show" with Atlanta in 2009.
"It is important to stay focused and keep the Braves tradition. There is a rich history," Farrell said.