Q&A with Braves’ Prospect Joey Estes

Joey Estes, Augusta GreenJackets, Low-A East, June 27, 2021. Photo credit Bryan Green, @BeGreen90 on Flickr

I’ll admit when the Braves drafted Joey Estes in the 16th round of the 2019 MLB draft, I didn’t know a ton about him. However, he was definitely a “name” amongst the high school arms in that draft. Between the time he was drafted and the time he signed a month later, I was able to see a lot more film and read up on him. It was clear he had the tools to be something special. Three pitch mix, good control/command, mid-nineties fastball.

He started his professional career in the Gulf Coast League and struggled a bit in limited time there. Then, 2020 came with the pandemic and due to there being no Minor League Baseball played, Estes had to delay his first full season. It was worth the wait as he did not disappoint in 2021! Estes pitched to a 3-6 record, had a 2.91 ERA, 127 K’s in 99 IP, and a 0.96 WHIP. All this while playing a full three years younger, on average, than his competitors.

I was excited to get a chance to catch up with him and we discussed his time so far and what’s to come.

Jarrod Vickery: You were still quite young (17) when you were drafted by the Braves. Just what was that process like leading up to and during the draft? Did you have a set round or dollar amount in mind that was a “line” between going to LBSU or going pro? When do you remember first hearing from the Braves?

Joey Estes: The process was actually quite stressful. Not knowing if I was going to get good money or even be drafted. I had to get good money, if not I was going to school. I did have a set price and the Braves did give me what I asked for. Honestly, I never really talked to the Braves much. I thought I was going to get drafted by another team I was talking to a lot, but I’m sure glad the Braves got me instead!

JV: So, to me, you’ve always had the “stuff” but what I noticed most about you coming out of high school was your ability to command. You get drafted and you struggle a little in rookie ball. Was there something specifically you were working on at the Gulf, whether mechanical or working on throwing a specific pitch? Or, was it just an adjustment period for you? Maybe a little of both?

JE: In Rookie ball I struggled a lot. Fresh out of high school and my mechanics were everywhere. I had just thrown 70 or 80 innings in high school. I was trying to do too much in Rookie ball. Elvin Nina, my pitching coach, he really helped me just start from square one. It took a while to learn everything and where I wanted to be mechanics-wise. It was an extremely hard process just because I had no control of the baseball. Everything I was doing was so new to me. I was thinking of everything possible throwing a ball and that’s not good when you’re on the mound. This year I just kept it simple. In Rookie ball we didn’t focus on any pitches, it was more about seeing where I was at out of high school and building off of that.

JV: You finish up Rookie ball and are getting ready for your first full season in 2020. The pandemic hits. Had you already been told a plan for that year(where you’d be, etc etc) before the pandemic? Describe what that “lost” season was like for you. Where did you go? How were you able to continue working on pitching? What specifically did you work on besides staying in shape? Just basically what that whole experience was like for you.

JE: I was at Spring Training for nine days when we got sent home. No one knew the pandemic was going to shut everything down like that. No one knew where they were going either. We didn’t even get to play an intrasquad game. Ended up getting sent back home and waiting for an answer from MLB or the Braves. No answer and I was tired of waiting around (laughs). In California EVERYTHING was shut down! I mean literally everything. So I moved to Nevada and trained with my new trainer, at the time. He is still currently my trainer. He also trains a ton of other minor leaguers and Bryce Harper. I got to work out with Harper a few times last year. That’s the whole reason why I moved because I wanted to surround myself with people that were just focused and just driven for the game. That alone gave me a lot of confidence going into 2021. In 2020 I really wanted a better changeup, so that’s all I really worked on during the whole pandemic.

JV: 2021 starts and we’re still not sure about fans being there but you find out you’re going to Augusta. Did you feel prepared/ready? Anxious? Just eager to get back to playing real baseball?

JE: We knew fans were going to be there but they told us only half capacity was allowed. First week three thousand fans showed up to almost every game. Augusta has such a strong fan base and I didn’t really know that going into Augusta. I’ve never pitched in front of that many fans before so yes I was extremely anxious but after my first outing I was completely fine and honestly you know the fans are there, just you’re so dialed in on the mound you kind of don’t really notice them. I definitely got a lot more comfortable as season went on so it was pretty cool for sure!

JV: Obviously the entire year of 2021 was phenomenal for you but your start against Kannapolis, where you go complete game, 14 Ks, 0 walks, has to stick out as a highlight? If you could, just give me your overall thoughts on the season, strengths, areas for improvement, what you learned, your injury/shutdown, and how that’s going.

JE: I will never forget that game. That was actually the first time my family ever got to watch me pitch in person, in my professional baseball career. My mom threw out the first pitch and I had that done because her birthday was the week after and I wanted to share the mound with my mom that night. Ended up being one of the best games I’ve ever thrown. That game means more than anything to me. More than I can really explain. I remember just being so dialed in and remember I’m a pitcher, so I pitch once a week or twice a week if I’m lucky. So my family came out and visited me for a week and only got to see me pitch one time so I really wanted to make sure I stayed in that game as long as possible. Ended up going CG and telling you this just gives me chills thinking about it. I don’t know what it was, but the feeling of having your family there is just an unexplainable feeling if that makes sense.

I thought I had a really good season overall. Felt comfortable and confident in all my stuff the whole year. My strengths in my opinion was just attacking guys and pounding the zone as much as possible. I can definitely improve on my slider and changeup. I’m really focusing on that right now this off season. Even though I can command, I still think I can improve a lot more on that especially getting my slider down in the bottom of the zone. I had patella tendinitis in my right knee as my injury and I feel really good now. I feel great and I’m honestly just ready to go for next season! I miss it already!

JV: So Mom gets season tickets next year, right?!

JE: Shoot, she deserves them!

At this point in the interview I “fanboy” out a little and get off course. Heck, I had chills just listening to the story! Ok, back to the Q&A.

JV: If you can, just talk about goals, plans, & such for next year.

JE: Well my plan is to come in and dominate and be the best I can be no matter what! What I’m working on is my changeup and a firmer slider.

JV: The Braves have a ton of talented pitchers in the organization. When I’ve talked to players before, even though they are competing for the same jobs, they are usually good friends with their peers and other than just natural competitiveness, really don’t think about that stuff much. What has been your experience so far with that?

JE: Yes the Braves for sure have a ton of pitching talent and honestly I couldn’t be more grateful for that. I’m in such good hands. I’m not a jealous person or a person that hates on anyone. Instead I like to learn from the best of the best and that’s all I’m around. Some of the best pitching prospects and if I can learn from them and benefit me in my game then that’s all that matters. Jared Johnson is actually one of my best friends and he’s an absolute tank! He’s gonna be crazy good! Even with Strider when he played for Augusta, I’ve learned a lot from him and he ends up making his debut the same year. I love the Braves and I look forward to my future with the Braves. I love being competitive but all of us are really just dudes trying to help each other and hope that you go up.

JV: Favorite player? If you had to comp yourself as far as mechanics and stuff who would you say?

JE: Can’t go wrong with deGrom, but I wouldn’t say that’s who I am as a pitcher. Kind of hard to really comp me. Maybe you can help me out with that. Who do you think I throw like. I’ve been told I throw funky (laughs). I love the way Max (Scherzer)throws. He’s a dog on the mound and just everything he does is amazing to watch really. But that’s a hard one.

JV: I’ve kind of comp’d you to Corbin Burnes, in my very amateur opinion. You’re a little quicker and your slot is a little lower but I see a lot of similarities. His curly mullet isn’t nearly as immaculate as yours though!

JE: Now that you say Corbin Burnes, that really reminds me about me pitching against the Mudcats. The pitching coach came up to me and he was extremely impressed on my performance and he told me that I’m a lot like Burnes. He said he was with Burnes the whole way through his career. (Laughs) I appreciate that! I actually cut a lot of my hair off. My head feels 20 pounds lighter! Don’t worry though it will be back in time for season, I didn’t cut it all off.

JV: Your personal success in your first full season mirrored the Braves success as they won the World Series this year. Even though you’re a pro, talk about being a fan of the big league club and the kind of run they had.

JE: It was a crazy season! Never thought I would be apart of a team to win the World Series. Just puts in perspective that it can be me one day. I’m a die-hard Braves fan and they gave me a chance, so I will do anything I can to make it and bring another back to Atlanta. That’s the plan my man!! Everyone of those dudes on the team, they all have big hearts and care for everyone of us minor leaguers. The Braves had a bond like no other. I knew we were going to win it all. Doesn’t matter how much talent you have. If you bring a group of guys together and it’s a family bond, that team is going to be very hard to beat.

JV: Tell me about Joey Estes off the field. Hobbies, food, are you a gamer, etc?

JE: I love to bowl. Favorite food is definitely sushi for the rest of my life! I do game. That’s how most of us guys stay connected to be honest. I just try to stay busy that’s all.

Although I was already very excited about Joey Estes, the prospect, I walked away from this interview even more impressed with Joey Estes, the person. The future is bright for the Braves and Estes!

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