Kent earns second shot with Atlanta Braves
8 January 2016
A dominant pitching presence in the Australian Baseball League, Canberra Cavalry left-armer and Alumni member Steven Kent was this week signed to a professional contract with Atlanta Braves – the club to which he was first contracted as a teenager over ten years ago.
Over three stand-out seasons in the Braves farm system, Kent was highly ranked and appeared destined for the big leagues before things went awry and he was released by the Braves in 2011.
However, in a classic illustration of the aphorism “it ain’t over until it’s over”, the personable and determined Kent has earned another chance in professional baseball after stellar performances with our national team and in the Australian Baseball League.
Growing up in his home town of Canberra - and following his baseball father Greg into the sport - Steven Kent burst upon the scene with consistently outstanding performances at under-aged national championships that brought him to the attention of professional scouts, including Australian baseball Hall-of-Famer and Braves scout Phil Dale.
“I guess I developed early,” Steven Kent told Australian Baseball Alumni in an interview this afternoon. “I was a big kid, I threw the ball hard and I was heavily scouted there for a time.”
“I went over to the states for tryouts with different organisations. I was lucky enough to go to Turner Field and was just treated so well by the Braves that they really made the decision for me,” he said.
Signing with the Braves in 2005 - at sixteen - Kent had two impressive seasons in the Gulf Coast League and another in the Appalachian League – along the way ranking as high as number seven in Atlanta farm prospects.
After shoulder surgery in 2009 he made a successful comeback with Rome Braves (South Atlantic League) in 2010 – with a faultless 2-0 record and a miniscule 0.69 ERA – before a disappointing 2011 that saw him released by the Braves as his ERA headed north and his attitude in the other direction.
“At the time I felt I was getting bounced about a bit – between starting and relieving and maybe not playing at the level I hoped,” he said. “I didn’t have a good attitude at all and, frankly, I would have released myself!”
Clearly with plenty still to offer – and as a regular selection in Australian national teams - Kent had break-out seasons in the Australian Baseball League during 2011/12 and 2012/13 before representing Australia at the World Baseball Classic, followed by minimal game time the next ABL season as he continued to experience the self-doubts and the setbacks that afflict so many of young baseball athletes who are released from professional contracts.
Including an unproductive spring training session with Kansas City Royals in 2012 and Tommy John surgery in 2013, Steven Kent has experienced more than his share of the lows in baseball life – to the point that he seriously considered leaving the sport.
“At the end of the 2014/15 ABL season my elbow was so bad that I thought that might be it for me,” he said. “I wasn’t even going to play this season, but after talking to the right people and doing a fair bit of soul-searching I decided that I had nothing to lose by getting back out there.”
“And I am so glad I did. I found that my strength was back and that really inspired me to do the best that I could, to have another crack and see where it might lead.”
Emerging as a potent force for Canberra in the current season, where he has been overpowering in racking up both the wins and the strikeouts against legitimate hitters, Kent was clocked at 94 MPH just prior to Christmas to again create a surge of interest among professional scouts – including one Phil Dale, of Atlanta Braves.
Kent’s appearance at the 2015 All-Star Game in Melbourne seems to have been the clincher.
“The All-Star Game was always going to be an opportunity for me,” Kent said. “I think back on that now and I believe that it was fate – or the baseball gods, call it what you will. I was the only player from the Canberra squad to make it to Altona that day. I was on a different flight to the others.”
“Their flight was cancelled, mine wasn’t. But even it had been, I would have found a way. I would have driven down, the game was so important to me.”
Appreciative of the support and encouragement that has been provided to him over the years – especially during the darker times – 26 year-old Steven Kent is in the perfect position to empathise with other players who have found themselves in baseball limbo after signing contracts as teenagers.
“Being released and not knowing who you are and where you are going can be disheartening,” he said. “It certainly was for me, although deep down I knew that what I desperately still wanted was a career in baseball.”
“Once you accept that, you just have to keep going. You have to keep working hard and you have to keep proving to yourself what you can do.”
“Never give up,” he said.
Canberra supporters will be especially pleased to learn that Steven Kent will finish the Australian Baseball League season before he directs his attentions to the World Baseball Classic Qualifier, to Spring Training, to the new season and to whatever else the baseball future might hold.
“I am hoping to make the team for the Qualifier,” he said. “It is just such an honour to put on the green and gold and represent Australia with such a great group of players and staff,” he said.
“After that I will be heading to Orlando in early March for Spring Training. I will be starting as a reliever – which is really what I want to do. The standard is going to be a step-up from where I was before, and in a sense I am being thrown into the fire – most likely at AA level to start.”
“I am going to have to prove myself,” he said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
While the Australian Baseball League still has plenty in store before the post-season, Canberra Cavalry is expected to be well among the action, with Steven Kent poised to play a massive role against tough competition.
“The league has really kicked on since it started up,” he said. “The hitting lineups of all clubs are so much deeper and the players have pride in what they are doing. The guys are all the time trying to prove their worth and earn opportunities somewhere – professionally or in the national team.”
“Brisbane is an awesome team. Their first five or six are really tough outs. They have some quality starters, a strong bullpen, and the addition of Travis Blackley just adds that touch of real class.”
Australian Baseball Alumni congratulates Steven Kent on his return to professional baseball. We wish him all the very best in his future endeavours and we thank him sincerely for his assistance in the preparation of this story.
Image: Canberra Times
Image: Australian Baseball League