I’ve talked to two professional baseball players over the past week that echo each other’s sentiments when it comes to the dream of making the big leagues. Jack Reinheimer told me that playing professional baseball was, “something that I always dreamed of and worked for when I was younger.” David Hess said, “The years of working and dreaming about getting the opportunity the Orioles gave me came together.” He was, “excited to get to join such a great organization and team.”
When you get the call promoting you to the major leagues, it has to be a truly humbling experience. Your effort and perseverance paid off and the dream of being a major league baseball player has now become a reality. For right-hander Branden Kline, his dream of being on the 25-man roster has almost gone up in a cloud of smoke on two separate occasions.
Originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox straight out of Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, Kline opted not to sign a contract. He attended the University of Virginia and played three seasons for the Cavaliers. He actually played with former Orioles pitcher Tyler Wilson in his Freshman and Sophomore seasons.
Kline appeared in 47 games as a reliever and started 23. Over 200 total innings pitched, he compiled a 16-5 record, 21 saves, a 3.22 ERA, 206 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.26. His best season was his Sophomore year as he pitched to a 1.88 ERA in 43 innings. All 32 of his appearances that season came in relief. The following season, he nearly doubled his strikeout total, racking up 94 in 93.2 innings pitched.
He was the Orioles second-round pick in the 2012 Amateur Draft and was immediately assigned to Class-A Short Season Aberdeen. Appearing in just four games with the IronBirds, he pitched 12 innings, racking up 12 strikeouts in the process. The following season, Kline appeared with Class-A Delmarva, starting seven games for the Shorebirds and pitching to a 5.86 ERA.
On May 24, 2013, he was placed on the Disabled List as he underwent surgery to repair a fractured fibula. When he spoke with MASN’s Jim Hunter on 105.7 The Fan’s Hot Stove show last week, Kline described the injury as, “a weird incident doing just, like, agility drills in the outfield.”
Upon his return the following season, Kline was assigned to Class A-Advanced Frederick and made 23 starts for his hometown Keys. He tossed 126.2 innings and pitched to a 3.84 ERA before receiving a call-up to the Bowie Baysox on August 20, 2014. As the season was winding down for Double-A Bowie, Kline only logged three starts and finished his first ever Double-A stint with an 0-2 record and a 5.94 ERA over 16.2 innings.
The following season is when Kline’s injuries really started to accumulate. He mad eight starts for the Baysox in 2015 before placed on the Disabled List on May 30, 2015. His season was finished after he left the game on May 20 in Trenton with an apparent arm injury. It was later discovered that his injury would require Tommy John surgery after a PRP (Platelet-Rich Plasma) injection was unsuccessful. He wound up missing the entire 2016 and 2017 seasons as a result of that and a follow-up surgery on his reconstructed right elbow.
Being eased back into being on the mound, Kline made his first appearance in 1,050 calendar days on April 5, 2018. He pitched two innings and threw 22 pitches, 17 for strikes, in Myrtle Beach for Class-A Frederick. Only allowing one hit, he picked up his first win since May 4, 2015.
Kline only allowed one run in his first ten appearances last year and was promoted to Double-A Bowie again on May 18. In his second stint with the Baysox, Kline appeared in 32 games, all in relief, and pitched 45 innings. He only allowed nine earned runs all season, finishing the year with a 4-4 record and a 1.80 ERA.
Kline’s adversity through all of his injuries is remarkable, even when his head started to hang low. “I wish I was confident all the time,” Kline said. “There was a point, when I was coming back from the first arthroscopic surgery and the same issue was popping up,” he told MASN’s Roch Kubatko. After talking with Dr. James Andrews about possibly having a second Tommy John surgery, Kline thought, “my career is going to be over. I just had Tommy John and I was sitting out a year-and-a-half plus and you’re telling me I have to have another one?”
Through it all though, his wife has remained by his side and has been his biggest supporter. “My wife has actually been keeping me calm,” he said. “She goes hey, the worst case is you have to come home and you spend more time with me, and at the time, our daughter was three or four months old.” Kline said, “She’s always been there to keep my head on straight and kind of make sure I never get too low and never get too high, so she kind of keeps me even-grounded, which is awesome.”
Having been protected from the Rule-5 draft, Kline will be reporting to Sarasota in five days. He’s thrilled that the team stuck with him and he’s on the 40-man roster but he said, “it’s only a small stepping stone.” In the same breath, he voiced his thoughts on making the big league roster.
“Guys don’t dream as kids saying ‘my goal is get on the 40-man.’ No, it’s to be in the big leagues. It’s a great opportunity, but at the same time, the goal has not been reached.” He continued, “After that 24 hours, [after receiving the call], the next day and Monday morning, I was up at 6:30 going to the gym and throwing and getting ready for the season.”
He’s as ambitious as they come and wants to get to Sarasota to showcase his stuff for a new coaching staff that will surely be looking to hand out opportunities. “I’ve got some goals that haven’t been reached yet, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming season.”