David Hale, a Princeton-educated pitcher and former standout at the Walker School in Marietta, received his first major league call-up Thursday and will join the Braves tonight in Philadelphia for the beginning of their series with the Phillies.
Hale, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-hander, was 6-9 in 22 appearances (20 starts) with Triple-A Gwinnett this year. He had a 3.22 ERA with 77 strikeouts and 36 walks in 114 2/3 innings.
This season was the 25-year-old Hale’s fifth in the Braves’ farm system, after he was selected in the third round of the 2009 draft following his junior season at Princeton.
Hale’s rise up the ladder caps an improbable journey that began with him just dabbling as a pitcher during his first three years at Walker.
When coach Michael Brady arrived at Walker in the fall of 2005, Hale had spent the majority of his time as a middle infielder for the Wolverines.
“I met him in the fall of my first year,” Brady said. “He had pitched four innings before his senior year. I said, ‘You’ve got a great arm. Can you pitch?’ He started working on throwing in the bullpen. He worked up to 40 pitches, then 50, then 60 — you could see he had a live arm.
“He went from 90 mph to 95 mph by the end of the year.”
Hale’s maturation helped earn him the opportunity to play at Princeton, where he split time as pitcher and outfielder in three years with the Tigers.
Though Hale was an effective hitter in college — he batted .291 over 74 games — it was his arm that gained the scouts’ attention. As a junior in 2009, he had 47 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings, striking out a career-best 10 in a win over Cornell.
That summer, his professional journey began with the Braves’ rookie-level affiliate in Danville, Va. In limited time, primarily as a reliever, Hale allowed just two earned runs in 16 innings and struck out 12.
Each subsequent season, Hale stepped one rung higher in the Braves’ system, and he was added to the team’s 40-man roster before spring training in February. He made five appearances in the big-league camp, striking out eight in nine innings and earning a win.
Despite his success as a ball player, Hale had set himself up with a contingency plan, completing the requirements for his accounting degree during the first few offseasons of his minor league career.
But before he starts crunching numbers in the business world, he’ll be crunching numbers against opposing batters.
Hale is the first Walker baseball player to reach the majors, though a handful have spent time in the minors, including Andrew Kown, Eric Suttle and Rip Warren.
When Hale does join the Braves’ staff — in the middle of a race for the NL East title and baseball’s best record — his role will likely be focused on long relief, or a spot start as Atlanta looks to rest its regular starters.
After the Braves complete a seven-game road trip, they will return to Turner Field on Sept. 13, presenting Hale with the first chance to pitch at home, in front of the family and friends that have supported him in his baseball career.
“I think he’s a great guy who worked extremely hard and deserves this opportunity,” Brady said. “I’m very proud of him for all he’s done, and for all he’s represented.”