MYRTLE BEACH | The path to baseball glory often comes down to one simple thing: what are you willing to do to get on the field and make your case in the only way that really means anything in the wilds of player development?
It seems every year brings one kid through here, a kid that falls somewhere between prospect and suspect on the talent scale, but one who maxes out on the meter that measures the pure desire to play.
Willie James was that kind of player. So was Scott Schade.
The same smell comes off Derrick Arnold.
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The utility infielder for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans has proven to be one of the most versatile players on Rocket Wheeler's roster. He's played in 37 of the team's 51 games and has started games at more positions (five) than anyone else on the current roster.
But it's his willingness, and more to the point, his ability, to pitch that could separate Arnold from the rest.
Arnold has pitched 1 innings in two relief appearances, allowing only one baserunner (he hit his first batter, forcing in a run) and providing the Pelicans with their only 1-2-3 inning in his most recent outing in last Friday night's blowout loss to the Wilmington Blue Rocks.
And to think he did all of this without benefit of a side bullpen session, without a throwing program or anything else that goes into preparing the Myrtle Beach pitching staff for their nightly forays to the hill.
"It's amazing,'' said Pelicans pitching coach Bruce Dal Canton when asked for a scouting report on Arnold the pitcher. "When he's out there, he does everything we want our pitchers to do. He throws strikes. He goes right after hitters. He's absolutely fearless out there.
"I hope some of our real pitchers are paying attention when he's out there.'' Arnold is way down with the whole pitching thing and will take all the pitching work the Pelicans want to toss his way.
"I've pitched my whole life,'' said Arnold, a native of Pensacola, Fla., whom the Braves took in the eighth round of the 2004 June draft out of Tallahassee Community College. "I pitched about 14 innings in college and did all right.''
He has a nice, quick fastball that the Pelicans have clocked at 90 mph, a changeup and a breaking ball he calls a curveball and everybody else calls a slider.
And this just in _ he actually throws strikes and works quickly.
Arnold, 23, actually went to Braves pitching coordinator Kent Willis just before the start of spring training and offered to switch to the mound full-time.
The Braves, at least for now, told him to concentrate on playing infield and maximizing his versatility.
But Arnold has got that pitching Jones.
"He tells me all the time that he's willing to pitch, any time we might need him,'' Dal Canton said. "I might have to bring this back up with [Willis].''
Manager Rocket Wheeler made a point of finding out about Arnold's pitching lineage. He knew there would come a day when he would need a position player to mop up in a blowout to spare the bullpen or save his pitchers for the next night. Carl Loadenthal filled that bill last season.
Consider Arnold's first outing on April 10, in Winston-Salem against the Warthogs.
There he was, minding his own business playing left field when Wheeler went to the mound and motioned Arnold into the infield and onto the mound.
The manager had just realized that, because of rules the Braves have for minor league relievers regarding mandatory amounts of rest after so many pitches or innings, he would lose Michael Nix for two days if he threw one more pitch.
So, he replaced Nix with Arnold.
"I had no idea,'' Arnold said.
"He had no time to warm up,'' Wheeler said. "Just his eight warmup pitches on the mound.''
Wheeler went back to Arnold on Friday night. This time, though, the skipper had enough time to warn Arnold that he might need him to ply his special service.
"I gave him the look in the third inning,'' Wheeler said.
"The look that I might need him,'' Wheeler said.
In the eighth, with the Pelicans trailing by an even dozen, Wheeler sent Arnold to the bullpen and told him to stay there until he heard from the manager.
"There's a good chance I'm going to use you,'' he told the utility infielder.
Wheeler called. Arnold warmed up. It took him two minutes.
He wasn't on the real mound much longer than that, retiring the Blue Rocks in order on three ground balls.
"He was good,'' said catcher Jose Camarena. "He threw strikes.''