THE LAST four years of Garrison Bryant‘s life are proof that even the most well-laid plans can change in an instant.
Committed to play football in New Mexico following his graduation from Clearwater High School in Florida, the Deerfield native received an opportunity he didn’t expect.
While scouting a player on the opposing team, a scout for the New York Mets couldn’t help but notice how well Bryant was performing on the mound. He had a fastball that could reach the low 90s and a circle changeup that was far more developed than most other 17-year-olds.
The word about Bryant got around quickly and suddenly he began to receive scholarships from Division I schools looking for pitching talent. After careful consideration, Bryant ultimately decided to decommit from New Mexico, but not because he was accepting an offer to play baseball elsewhere, but because the Mets had drafted him in the 36th round of the 2016 draft.
“It was tough for sure,” Bryant said of his decision to move on from football. “But I always dreamed of playing professional baseball when I was young. I really just never thought I could make it a reality. We are a huge football family that turned into a huge baseball family.”
As hard as it was, there were a number of factors pulling him in baseball’s direction. Signing with the Mets ensured that college and housing would be all paid for whenever he decided to go back to school. He’d also be exposed to professional coaching and get to play at the level he always wished he could. Oh, and the signing bonus certainly didn’t hurt, either.
All that was left to do was to begin performing on the diamond. That didn’t happen right away, though. Bryant struggled his first year with the Gulf Coast League Mets during rookie ball, pitching in seven games and giving up nine runs in 8⅓ innings that resulted in a 9.72 ERA.
He spent the next two years with the Kingsport Mets of the Appalachian League, another rookie ball affiliate of the Mets, and notched an 8.76 ERA in 2017 and a 5.24 ERA in 2018.
This year has been much different. Excluding a poor appearance with the Columbia Fireflies of the full-season Single-A South Atlantic League, Bryant has been excellent for New York’s short-season Single-A team, the Brooklyn Cyclones, for whom he has a 2.59 ERA in nine starts.
“My experience has been tough,” Bryant said. “Being younger than everyone you’re playing against is tough, especially when you haven’t played as much baseball over the years as those older guys. But I’ve learned a ton. Over the past three off-seasons I’ve worked out six days a week from mid-September to spring training in February.”
That hard work has paid off in a big way. In 59 innings, Bryant has 55 strikeouts and is holding opponents to a .178 batting average through Friday’s games. His ERA so far in two August starts and one relief appearance is 1.06, down from the 1.55 mark he posted in June.
The result was a selection to the New York-Penn League All-Star game, where he’ll suit up for the Blue team in Staten Island on Aug. 21.
At 20 years old, Bryant is far from a finished product. He’s overhauled his mechanics since being drafted and is rounding out his arsenal of pitches. Right now he has the fastball and circle change, which he says is inspired by the late Hall of Famer Roy Halladay. His third pitch, a slurve, is still coming along and he hopes it eventually becomes two new pitches.
“It goes about 79-82 (miles per hour) and I’m working on and developing it,” he said. “I’d love to perfect the pitch and make it a true either slider or curve and then add the other pitch to the mix, giving me four. The ball breaks more than a slider, but not as much as a curveball. So it’s right in the middle and I think eventually I’ll be throwing straight up sliders and curveballs.”
Once the current short season is over, Bryant will either head to Port St. Lucie, Fla., for instructional league with the Mets or he’ll begin his off-season. He says he’s not sure if he’ll get a winter ball contract due to the amount of innings he’s already thrown this year.
Wherever he ends up, the work is going to continue, and he still has so much time ahead of him.
“Of course the end goal is to have a major league career,” he said. “Being able to say and be a big leaguer would be an absolute dream. It feels good to be an All-Star and see my hard work pay off. There’s still so much to improve on and get better at and that’s all I can think about.”
The mid-summer months were not kind to Bedford’s Grant Lavigne.
Playing in his first season with the Asheville Tourists — the Colorado Rockies’ Single-A affiliate — Lavigne struggled at the plate from May through July, posting batting averages of .202, .258 and .210 during those months. Lately, though, Lavigne has begun to show the ability at the plate the Rockies saw in him when they selected him 42nd overall in the 2018 draft.
The two-time New Hampshire Gatorade Player of the Year has hit .324 (12-for-37) over his last 10 games and is hitting .319 with a home run and 10 RBIs in 13 contests so far this month.
After starting the year hitting .280 with a home run and 12 RBIs in 23 April games, an extended dry spell like the one he seems to have begun to put behind him was a little unexpected.
Sure, pitchers start to adjust to hitters after they’ve seen them a couple of times, but for someone as productive as Lavigne, it was surprising to see him down for so long.
The Tourists have 16 games remaining, giving Lavigne a chance to continue his surge and end the year the way he started it: on a good note.
With 17 games remaining on the schedule, the Fisher Cats sat in last place in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division following Friday’s win against the Portland Sea Dogs — their fourth in a row — and it’s growing more and more likely the team will miss out on the playoffs this year.
After finishing in last place over the first half of the season with a 27-40 record, the Fishers needed to finish the second half in first place if they were to qualify for the postseason.
The EL uses a format where the winners of each half face one another before moving on to play the winner of the other division for the league championship, which the Fisher Cats won in 2018.
Though expectations were clearly down following the promotions of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, players and coaches still believed they had a shot to make the playoffs again this year. Sure, the talent wasn’t at the all-time high it was a year ago, but there were still plenty of pieces on this year’s team that probably should have made them competitive.
While the team’s hitting as a whole was mostly middle of the pack, it was the pitching that cost them games at times. Through Friday the Fishers were ranked last in the league in team ERA (3.89), first in earned runs (436), third in home runs allowed (96) and second-to-last in strikeouts (920). To be fair, there are reasons for some of those struggles.
Soon-to-be top prospect Nate Pearson was on an innings limit for the majority of the year, pitching two and five innings in alternating starts before the restriction was finally lifted last month. Patrick Murphy, the organization’s No. 18 prospect, has been on and off the injured list.
There’s been a lack of consistency across the board for one reason or another. Barring a miracle run, the Fishers will have to go back to the drawing board this offseason and gear up for the 2020 season, which will come with its own question marks.
Who will be the manager with Mike Mordecai leaving at the conclusion of this season? Who will be back? Who will be promoted? All of these will need to be answered over the winter and during spring training.
NH Baseball appears in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Contact Tim MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org.