2017-06-29 / Sports

Borkovich signs with Braves

Borkovich gets his shot in Gulf Coast League
By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff

WALTER BORKOVICH agreed to a minor-league contract with the Atlanta Braves in Orlando on Monday. WALTER BORKOVICH agreed to a minor-league contract with the Atlanta Braves in Orlando on Monday. A dream came true for a Leelanau County kid in Orlando this week — and it had very little to do with Walt Disney World.

The Atlanta Braves signed former Michigan State pitcher Walter Borkovich to a minor-league contract in Orlando early Monday morning, giving the undrafted free agent an opportunity to prove himself this summer with their rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate, the GCL Braves.

“It means the world to me,” Borkovich said shortly after watching his new teammates drop a 9-3 decision to a New York Yankees affiliate at Champion Stadium on Tuesday. “In the same sense, it’s just the first step.

“I’m really fortunate to be in this situation. The work starts now, and I’m ready to go. It’s just really exciting to be part of the Braves, who have such a strong history of pitching.”

The Big Ten ERA leader’s free-agent status came as somewhat of a surprise to members of the Michigan State program when the 2017 MLB Draft came to a close on June 14.

Michigan State coach Jake Boss Jr. said some scouts had asked him about “a medical issue” with Borkovich dating back to his early teen years.

Boss said the rumors are ridiculous.

“Crazy things happen in those draft rooms sometimes,” Boss said. “That’s what I was led to believe to be the issue. It doesn’t make any sense — but I don’t really know. Some of those pro guys probably have a better answer than I, but he’s always been healthy.”

Borkovich, who had heard from all 30 MLB organizations prior to the draft and went into last weekend with several free-agent offers on the table, was a workhorse throughout the course of his four-year collegiate career.

The Michigan State record book doesn’t recognize a career appearances leader, but Borkovich may very well rank toward the top of the list.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander tied the program record for single-season appearances as a sophomore with 30 and finished with 89 in his career. His career ERA in that stretch — 200.2 innings — was a respectable 3.05.

“He’s a strike thrower,” Boss said. “His velocity is very good. He doesn’t ever really throw anything straight, which makes him hard to hit. His fastball has a lot of life, a lot of movement.

He added: “It wouldn’t surprise me to see him break his fair share of bats.”

Borkovich’s repertoire includes a nifty slider, a splitter, a 12-6 curveball and a mean two-seam fastball. The latter is thrown in the low-to-mid 90s.

That said, plenty of pitching prospects throw heat.

Maple City resident and former major-league pitcher Jay Hook, who helped Borkovich develop his curveball more than a decade ago, said what sets the Elmwood Township native aside is his command.

“Walter’s a little ahead of the game on that,” said Hook, who pitched for the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets. “He has very good control and seems to know right where he wants to throw.”

Hook said a lot will have to go right for Borkovich in his pursuit of a career in the majors. The GCL Braves are lowest on a totem pole of six Braves affiliates, after all.

If those aspirations don’t pan out, Borkovich has a backup plan. He’s set to complete all credits needed to graduate at Michigan State this fall.

That’s no surprise considering he was a four-year honors student and contributed to the highest team GPA in program history in the spring.

Time will tell whether Borkovich makes it in the big leagues — but at least he has a shot.

He’ll look to make the most of it this summer at Champion Stadium, which is located at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World.

“This is his dream,” said his dad, Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich. “It’s been his dream since he was a kid. When he was 4 or 5, all he wanted to do was play baseball.”

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