For prospect Ellis, connection to Braves runs deep
ATLANTA — Back home in Birmingham, Ala., recently, Chris Ellis went into his closet and pulled out a jersey and tried pulling it on.
At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, there was no way he could wear that aging Braves jersey — Chipper Jones’ name and No. 10 on the back — anymore.
"I tried to put it on and it was tiny," the right-hander pitcher said. "It was from when I was like eight years old."
It was a reminder of how far back the now 25-year-old goes with this franchise. He grew up a Braves fan, and when he played travel baseball from the ages of eight to 14, Ellis said every team he played on "was always the Braves, the Braves, the Braves,"
Now, he’s with them again as part of the Nov. 12 deal that landed Atlanta Ellis, left-handed pitching prospect Sean Newcomb and shortstop Erick Aybar from the Angels for Andrelton Simmons.
It was a change that Ellis, who was taken by Los Angeles in the third round of the 2014 draft out of Ole Miss, never saw coming.
In fact, when he first heard about it, he was taken aback.
He was on his way back to Memphis with some friends when another Angels farm hand texted him "Hey, bro. You got just got traded."
"I didn’t hear anything about it," Ellis responded.
"Yeah, well check it out," the friend replied.
Minutes later, the call came from his agent and Ellis was on the move back to the Southeast. That he’s doing it with Newcomb, his teammate in stops at both high-A (Inland Empire) and Double-A (Arkansas) makes it that much easier of a transition.
"That’s what I was more excited about was having Sean come with me and not just getting thrown into a new environment," Ellis said. "Even though it would have been just fine."
The organization’s 11th-ranked prospect per MLB.com, Ellis went 11-9 last season with a 3.90 ERA in 26 starts across Inland Empire and Arkansas.
He ended the year in Double-A, where he threw 78 innings over 15 starts with an ERA of 3.92 and 62 strikeouts to 43 walks.
Looking around the room during last week’s first Winter Elite Development Camp, the depths of the team’s pitching was evident.
Among those joining Ellis were Touki Toussaint (fifth-ranked prospect), Max Fried (ninth), Lucas Sims (10th), Ricardo Sanchez (14th), Mike Soroka (15th) and Zachary Bird (16th). That list didn’t include those who weren’t in attendance: Aaron Blair (fourth), Kolby Allard (sixth), Tyrell Jenkins (seventh), Manny Banuelos (eighth) — or Newcomb, who trails only shortstop Dansby Swanson in MLB.com’s Braves rankings.
It figures to be an ultra-competitive spring as the Braves work out who makes the rotations at the lower levels. Add in that Atlanta had the youngest staff in the majors last season, with more starts by players 24 or younger than any team in history, and opportunities are there for the surplus of young, talented arms.
"(I’m) super excited that they’ll put younger guys up in the big leagues if they think you’re ready," Ellis said. "My whole thing is to make sure I’m ready for spring training and whatever happens, happens."
Blair and Newcomb are said to be the closest of the organization’s influx of new pitchers to the majors, and Ellis would seem on path to be in Double-A Mississippi or Triple-A Gwinnett for most of this season. A September call-up is a possibility, though you could say the same thing for a number of the pitchers the Braves have acquired in the last year.
For now, Ellis is content being back around family and friends, playing for a team that he is all too familiar with.
"I’m especially super excited about the opportunity and about coming back down South and playing for the Braves," he said.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t thinking ahead as the Braves.
"I think all of our goals, and especially the pitchers, is to get back to the John Smoltz or Greg Maddux days, those days when their pitching staff was just so dominant," Ellis said.