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Newest Braves outfielder Travis Demeritte on his improved approach, journey back to the big leagues

Days before a promotion put him in line to slip on a braves uniform some 50 miles from where he grew up, outfielder Travis Demeritte sat inside the stadium of Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate and didn’t wonder when he’d get his next crack at the major leagues.

He received his first chance with the rebuilding Tigers in 2019 and 2020 and fumbled it. He was eager to return to baseball’s highest level, particularly after spending the 2021 season in Triple A demonstrating he deserved another look. But he knew dwelling on the decisions of the Braves’ front office would lead him nowhere. He simply needed to prove 2021 was no aberration.

Before the Braves called on him to take the roster spot vacated by austin riley on Wednesday, Demeritte had done that and maybe more. He had knocked 13 hits — 10 of them for extra bases — and drawn six walks in his first 12 games with Gwinnett. He also struck out 12 times in 52 plate appearances, making for a strikeout rate that was 10 percentage points better than the 33-percent rate he had last season.

The hot start built on a promising 2021, his first season back with the Braves after the Tigers let him go right before spring training last year. Demeritte flashed the kind of power he hadn’t shown since hitting 29 doubles, nine triples and 28 homers in High A in 2016. Last season, he led his team with 21 home runs and ranked fifth in Triple-A East in the same category despite missing 33 games because of an oblique strain. His highlight reel included a blast that exited the Memphis Redbirds’ stadium and another that might have just left the Gwinnett Stripers’ home field if it hadn’t bounced off the tall retention wall that separates the park from an apartment complex.

Demeritte, 27, is listed at 6-feet, 180 pounds. His frequent displays of strength thrilled first-year manager Matt Tuiasosopo.

“We had some big hitters last year,” Tuiasosopo said. “But TD, man. There’s some thunder in that bat. My mind goes to some home runs in some places that we went. I’m just impressed by how far and how hard he was hitting some of these balls. I can still remember some home runs that he hit, everybody being like ‘Wow,’ impressed with his strength. The way he can handle the bat in the batter’s box, he can really hit. I go there when I think of Travis. I go to conversations that we all have about Travis and how we all really love watching him hit and his ability to do special things with the bat. ”

Demeritte may not remain with the Braves for long. He may rejoin the Stripers as soon as Riley comes back from paternity leave. If he outlasts Riley’s return, perhaps he’ll stay up until major-league rosters are trimmed back to 26 players and the Braves no longer have the flexibility to carry six outfielders. Or he may just find a way to stick around.

Between being drafted in the first round by the rangers out of Winder-Barrow (Ga.) High in 2013, traded to his hometown Braves three years later, sent alongside fellow prospect Joey Wentz to the Tigers in exchange for reliever Shane Greene in 2019 and designated for assignment before spring training in 2021, Demeritte has experienced plenty of the maddening quirks his profession has to offer. The uncertainty of the upcoming days surely won’t trip him up.

Demeritte spoke with The Athletic five days before his promotion. Here is an excerpt from the conversation. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.


What’s working for you right now?

Just being selective in the zone, honing in on my pitch to hit and focusing on each pitch during every at bat — just bringing a different level of focus. That was my main thing for me this year, making sure I’m not taking any pitches for granted. Even on defense, not becoming lackadaisical in between pitches because you never really know when the ball is gonna be hit to you. So making sure that I’m aware and attentive to every pitch and locked into the game.

I don’t mean to say that you never thought about being selective, but had you not really put that much focus on that before this season?

Before I felt like I would get myself out a lot in certain counts by swinging at pitches that they (the pitchers) wanted me to swing at. So I won’t say it wasn’t working for me beforehand. It was just more fine-tuning that skill exactly. Just finding better ways and more fun ways to keep myself engaged and locked into at-bats, paying more attention when I’m not hitting to what the pitcher is doing, how he’s pitching to other guys, what he’s using when he gets behind and things of that nature.

When you say you try to keep yourself engaged and make sure you’re having more fun, was that something that was kind of difficult for you?

No, not necessarily. I think anyone who’s played the game at the highest level will tell you it gets challenging. It’s definitely challenging. And it gets really challenging mentally when things aren’t going your way, or you feel off a certain way. So having something to fall back on that’s not necessarily mechanical or physical within the game, something just to kind of alleviate some pressure mentally. It’s definitely been a huge key to my success here the past couple of years. Because it’s no fun when you’re struggling at the plate, or struggling in general. But you got to come out here every day. This is a game that we don’t get any days off. So we’re here every day, and it’s right back to it tomorrow. The easier you can keep yourself more even keel, the better you’ll be throughout the marathon the season is.

Is that mentality something you’ve built on your own? Or is there someone who has given you advice?

It’s something I’ve developed on my own. I speak with a lot of my teammates, picking their brains on things that they do whenever they find success, or whenever they’re struggling, how they cope with that also. Definitely learning how to handle both sides of success. Whenever I’m doing really well, just continue to ride out what I’m doing and not get too high on myself and take days off from doing what it was that I was doing to help me achieve that success. And on the flip side of that coin, when I’m struggling, not overcompensating, and trying to gain everything back in just one at-bat or just one game. It’s a marathon, so just treat it as such.

You haven’t really had any lows so far this season, but maybe last year, did you find yourself overcompensating?

After I was injured in the second month of the season, that gave me a lot of time to sit back and think about some things and how I was approaching the game and things that I could do better to help prevent that from happening. So that was definitely a period of time in which I sat back and reflected on how I can improve as a player, just as a person.

What did you learn about yourself during your time on the injured list, if you did learn anything significant?

Rewatching some at bats, I learned some tendencies of my own. I was figuring out how to eliminate some things. It’s definitely a challenging period whenever you’re not playing baseball. You want to be out there competing with your teammates, and doing whatever you can to help the team win. Missing time is a challenge in itself. But it helped build some mental toughness. I had to take a step back and really look at myself and be honest with myself about the things that I was doing, and things that I could personally do better to help me further myself along in this game. It was a good period of reflection for me. No one wants to get injured but I’m thankful that it happened.

Would you call that break significant for you, in regards to how things have progressed since then?

One hundred percent. One hundred percent. No one wants to step away from the game, but it was a nice reset button for me. I guess that was God’s way of telling me I needed to slow down and get myself in order, get my body (right) and prioritize myself. Really take this thing seriously and understand what it means to play 162 games, and what it takes to actually make it to that length. So it was definitely a good period of time for me.

How do you keep yourself motivated to keep doing this after so many years?

It’s always been my dream to be a Major League Baseball player. I believe in myself, first and foremost, and that I can play with anybody. That’s the only motivation that I really need to keep me going in this game. Accolades are what they are, but I like to prove to myself that I can play with the best. And that’s the motivation that keeps me going. I want to prove to not only myself but to everyone else that I can play with the best. I believe that I’m capable of holding my own.

Now that you’re further along in your career, do you feel like you’ve reached your highest point of growth?

I feel like I’m almost there. I feel like there’s still a little more room for growth, which is definitely encouraging. So I wouldn’t say I have it figured out by any means, but I’m definitely getting a better understanding of myself and how my body moves and how I think about certain situations, how I attack certain situations. That has definitely given me a better and more in-depth look at myself and who I am as a hitter.

(Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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