Beau Torbert had just finished his third season with an independent league team called the Pheasants. The Sioux Falls Pheasants.
Here’s a 27-year-old Alabama boy doggedly chasing a dream, playing indy-league baseball in South Dakota. Just hoping for another shot on a bigger stage, hoping to get noticed. He flirted with a .400 batting average all season before finishing at .394.
Yes, .394. With 38 doubles, 24 homers, 100 RBIs. In 95 games. In any league, impressive.
Then he was back home in Phenix City, Ala. Nearly three weeks ago, the phone rang. It was the Atlanta Braves. Yes, sir, this is Beau. Yes, very interested.
“That’s the team you grow up liking your whole life — my parents and grandparents were just fanatics,” Torbert said. “Couldn’t really ask for more, than to sign with the team you grew up loving.”
The outfielder signed a minor-league contract with the Braves, and will go to spring training trying to earn a spot on their Double-A or Triple-A roster, a step or two away from the majors. Again.
A 17th-round draft pick of the Houston Astros in 2004, Torbert spent four seasons in that organization and played 32 games in Triple-A before being released in 2007.
Beau knows opportunity, and knows this could be his last.
“I don’t want it to be my last shot, but I’m kind of realistic,” said Torbert, adding that he’s considerably stronger and better prepared than in his Astros days. He’s also three years older, however.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity. I just want to make the most of it,” he said. “I’m at the facility right now, running, hitting and throwing.”
He was calling from the Chattahoochee Valley Baseball Academy in Phenix City, where Gary Head Jr. and Kash Beauchamp are on staff. Head is a friend of Braves pitcher and Phenix City native Tim Hudson. Beauchamp is a son of the late Jim Beauchamp, Bobby Cox’s Braves bench coach from 1991 to 2001.
Hudson and Beauchamp put in a good word for him, but the Braves didn’t have to be persuaded to take a look at Torbert, after he produced such overwhelming stats in 2010. He had career-highs in average, homers, RBIs, on-base percentage (.435) and slugging percentage (.684).
He won his second American Association MVP award in three years and was Baseball America’s Independent League player of the year.
“He’s put up good numbers in the independent leagues,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “The numbers have improved each of the past three years. When you look at those kind of players that continue to improve and put up numbers, I think it’s worth taking a look.”
Torbert morphed into a slugger at 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds, 25 pounds heavier than in his leadoff-hitting days in the Astros organization.
A right-handed batter, he hit .301 with eight home runs and an .857 OPS in Class A in 2005, and .305 with 31 doubles and 24 steals in 119 games in high-A in 2006.
But after his production slipped during the next two seasons mostly in Double-A, he was released. He was also released by the Detroit Tigers in 2009 spring training, after his first MVP season with Sioux Falls.
He’s racked up 55 homers and 231 RBIs in 240 games during three seasons with Sioux Falls, after totaling 14 homers and 144 RBIs in four seasons in the Astros organization.
“I always had power, but didn’t realize how to use it till I got to indy ball,” said Torbert, who moves well despite his size. “Wanted to be that kind of player who could still run, not just have power.”