It’s hard to say what makes someone a favorite, but Kris Medlen has been a favorite of Braves fans from almost the moment he was called up. Is it his size? He’s hardly diminutive, but on a team with man-hulks such as Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, he does look small. It makes him seem like an underdog, and everyone loves an underdog. Is it that ridiculous straight billed cap? It’s an absurd look, but on a goof like Medlen, it’s oddly endearing. Of course, it might just be that goofiness. You can take one look at a picture of the guy and you just know you’re looking at a character. (If you need proof of his goofiness, track down the tweets exchanged between him and Peter Moylan during their trip down to Orlando for spring training.)
Of course, one of the reasons we’re all fans of Medlen’s is that he’s really, really good. It’s been mentioned often on television as of late, but Medlen played shortstop in addition to pitching at Santa Ana College. When the Braves drafted him in 2006, they saw him as a reliever and for his first two seasons, that’s the role he played. He started the 2008 season in AA and for the first time, was asked to start. He made 17 starts that year in addition to 19 appearances as a reliever. He was good but ran into a little bad luck. Coming out of spring training in 2009, he was sent to AAA as a starter and dominated from the start. In late May, the Braves needed a starter. The decision was made to leave the "real prospect" Tommy Hanson at AAA for a bit longer, and Kris Medlen was promoted to the majors after only six AAA starts.
Like a lot of young players, he struggled at times and spent the majority of the season in the bullpen. It was obvious form the start though that the kid was a battler. He doesn’t have a lot of give in him. It’s an attitude that reminds a lot of us of not just Greg Maddux, but also Tom Glavine. He would again split the 2010 season between the rotation and the bullpen, and was pitching well when he went down with a shoulder injury. He required Tommy John surgery and was out until the very end of the 2011 season when he made his comeback with two excellent appearances at the end of the season. There’s little doubt that the Braves could have used Medlen throughout the 2011 season. Is there anyone who doesn’t believe that the Braves bullpen would have been stronger during the September collapse if Medlen had been around not just to pitch, but to have taken some of the heavy load away from Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel?
There is a perception among many Braves fans that Medlen’s talents are somewhat unappreciated. There’s the belief that he should have been in the rotation form day one this year. I was one of those people who agreed with the decision to start him in the bullpen this season. He was one of the few guys who could enter a close game and pitch several innings. You need guys like that in your bullpen and I thought we needed that to keep the workload lighter for the bullpen’s big three. I was wrong. We all were. It’s clear now that Medlen should have been a cog in the starting rotation on the first day of the season. He has been nothing short of great from his first start. Right now, he’s our number one starter, and I don’t think anyone can dispute that.
Of course, it might be working in the Braves and Medlen’s favor that he started the year in the bullpen. If he had been in the rotation all year, he would have already started more games than in any single season at any point of his career. This is his first full year back from surgery, so perhaps, he’ll be strong throughout the stretch drive. We know he’ll battle. We know he’ll give it his all every time out. How can you not look forward to every start he has remaining?
Collecting Medlen cards right now isn’t a particularly difficult task. He has no relics and no autographs issued by a major manufacturer. I hope Topps is paying attention to his season and rectifies this next year. Right now, you can still pick up the parallel versions of many of his cards fairly affordably. Make no mistake though, if he keeps pitching like this, the price of his cards will go up. We’ll look at five of his best cards after the break.
2011 Topps Gold #392
His 2011 Topps base card represents the best of Topps photography and is sort of the perfect card to introduce someone to Kris Medlen. You have the dual nature of his appearance as you can see the old school way he wears his socks high and yet, he also wears the straight bill cap. The photo is a great action shot, but it is also taken close enough that you can still see the kids face. The icing on the cake is the photographer capturing the ball in air. I’m always a sucker for pictures of pitchers with the thrown ball looking suspended in the air. A great Topps base card. You can pick the base version of the card up for around a quarter, the black parallel for ten dollars and the other parallels for just under a buck each.
2009 Topps Heritage #625
The 1960 Rookie Star subset featured a few classic players. Among the players included were Jim Kaat, Frank Howard and all-time Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski. Kris Medlen is one of the Braves chosen to appear on the same design in Topps homage to the 1960 set, 2009 Topps Heritage. The card was released in the second series of the Heritage set which wasn’t released until December of the year. Topps also produced a Chrome version of this card that can be found for a couple of bucks on eBay. (You can also find Kenshin Kawakami on the same design if that floats your boat.)
2010 Topps Update Black Parallel #71
You always want at least one card from a pitcher that shows his arm contorted at a seemingly impossible angle. If you wonder just how a pitcher can tear up his shoulder, take a look at this picture. I’m certain I can’t turn my arm that way while throwing a baseball. With Kris Medlen’s parallels still going cheap, you might as well pick up the black parallel of this card. It’s serial numbered to 59 copies and can be found for around five bucks on eBay.
2009 Upper Deck SP Authentic #154
I don’t know if it’s just the angle, but it sure looks like you can tell Med Dog’s grip. As I’ve stated many times here, I much prefer cards with a real background in the photograph, but this card works for me. Medlen looks to pop off the surface of the card. The styling is simple and includes team colors, which almost makes up for the lack of a team logo. This is one of the nicer designs from the Authentic product and it makes me miss Upper Deck.
2006 Bowman Chrome Draft Draft Picks Refractor #58
That smile is undeniable. Medlen’s first card shows us a young man who loves to play the game baseball and is clearly having fun. It’s aways nice when a player’s first card shows him in the home white uniforms as well. The only unfortunate thing about this card is that there isn’t a signed version available. The card books for around a dollar with the refractor going for little more.