Feb. 14, 2013
Prior to New Year's Day, former Auburn All-SEC southpaw Grant Dayton received the email of a lifetime as the Huntsville, Ala., native was invited to be a part of the Miami Marlins 40-man roster for the 2013 Spring Training season.
"I was pumped. I knew I was going to get the invite, but no one had told me anything yet," Dayton said. "They sent it to me and it really wasn't an invite, it was more of an itinerary. It did say `Congratulations, you have been selected to participate in the Miami Marlins spring training!' and as soon as I saw that, I was ecstatic. Obviously, I had to call my mom and dad and let them know."
Coming out of Bob Jones High School, Dayton became an integral part of the Auburn pitching rotation from 2008-10. After redshirting his first year on campus in 2007, he finished 2008 with a 7-2 record and a 3.89 ERA, including a 12 strikeout performance against Mississippi State, which at the time was the highest by an Auburn pitcher since 2002.
Following a 2-6 sophomore season, Dayton rebounded with a superb junior season that landed him on the All-SEC Team. Dayton helped lead Auburn to a NCAA Regional berth where he went 8-3 (7-1 SEC) with a 4.36 ERA and a team-high 69 strikeouts.
"It was great. We were living on cloud nine," Dayton said of the 2010 season. "It seemed like we couldn't lose and when we did, it seemed like the game didn't really matter. It came down to the last SEC series and we swept (at No. 17 Ole Miss). It was like it was meant to be. When we hosted, it was disappointing when we lost against Clemson, but it was a great ride. Getting to play that extra game because Creede Simpson hit the homerun in the second to last game was probably the greatest memory I have. I would bet that if you asked anybody on that team what their greatest memory of the season was, it would be that."
Dayton's performance was rewarded on the first day of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in which he was one of a school-record nine players to be selected in the first 30 rounds. In the 11th round of the draft, Dayton became a Marlin.
"It was Cole Nelson
, Ty Kelley
and me all sitting around the computer watching the draft," Dayton said. "I was watching Cole Nelson's
phone just blow up since the fifth round. He ended up getting taken in the 10th round. I hadn't even gotten a phone call. I was expecting to get drafted, but not in the 11th round. I wasn't thinking that. I went up to go get some food and Cole told me, `Grant! You just got drafted!' And I said `What? My phone hasn't rung. There is no way.' He was double checking and hoping that he wasn't wrong and he wasn't. About five minutes later, my scout called me and told me the news. It was history after that. It was probably one of the easiest processes. I saw teams talking to Cole and asking him if he would take this or take that and for me it was just `Hey we drafted you.' It was great."
Almost immediately after signing with the Marlins, Dayton, who started 42 games for the Tigers from 2008-10, was moved to the bullpen. Initially, he was nervous about the move, but he soon realized he could be much more effective coming out of the bullpen.
"I was skeptical, because you see all these guys that are relievers in the Major Leagues that were starters in the Minor Leagues, so I thought that I was going to get buried for a few years and then get released as soon as they told me that they wanted me to be a reliever," Dayton said. "However, I rode it out and, well, it is looking good. My attitude changed when I found out I was a much better reliever than a starter. I have been able to capitalize on that."
With the move, Dayton's conditioning has been altered, which has added more life to his arm. Learning to throw every day has given Dayton's fastball more life and allowed his arm to hit another gear.
"The biggest improvement for me came right out of the gate when they moved me to the bullpen when I went to rookie ball," Dayton said. "I learned to be able to throw every day instead of once every week like I did in college. Coming into the next season, I learned another gear that I could hit with my arm. People said I was tired, but it really wasn't that. I learned in Spring Training from guys that throw harder, because it seems like everybody can throw 95 MPH in the minor leagues. I learned what they were doing and I tried to mimic it and I found another gear that I could hit. It just added life to my fastball. That is probably the best thing that I have managed to be able to do. It is not the velocity that makes the fastball; it is the life on it. I raised my arm slot and it has been great ever since then."
Dayton's hard work paid dividends last season where he made 31 appearances for the Jupiter Hammerheads, posting a 2-5 record with a 2.10 ERA and 71 strikeouts. Dayton credits his success to Hammerheads pitching coach, Joe Coleman, who was a 15-year MLB veteran.
"He has such a great knowledge for the game. It is hard to describe," Dayton said. "When he talks baseball, you just know that he knows what he is talking about. When you come back into the dugout after you have a bad inning, he asks you `why did you throw this pitch?' and then he explains to you why it was a bad idea. He understands that missing your spot is going to happen. He is never going to blow me up for messing up, he taught me the mental side of the game, or at least a little piece of it that he is willing to give up. I picked up a lot from him, like how to read hitters and exploit their weaknesses, which is an ongoing learning process. He taught me a little bit and helped me out last year."
On August 13th, Dayton was promoted to Double-A to play with the Jacksonville Suns. He appeared in seven games where he finished 2-1 with a 4.15 ERA while striking out 19 hitters in just 13 innings of work.
"There was a level of maturity that I had not been exposed to before when it comes to getting to the field and getting your work done," Dayton said. "Guys just seemed to be more mature about it. I could also tell as a pitcher against opposing hitters that they have better plate awareness. They aren't out there swinging at balls, unless you set them up to. They're not going to get themselves out because I am missing the strike zone. Throwing more consistent strikes was more important."
While training in Auburn during the offseason, Dayton was able to learn more about the game from former Tigers such as Evan Crawford and Tim Hudson.
"Coach Pawlowski lets the minor leaguers come up and use the facilities so whoever is around, I keep in contact with them and train with them" Dayton said. "It has been cool this year, because Tim Hudson has been up here training and he will long toss with Evan Crawford and me sometimes. If we get lucky he will get to talking about throwing pitches.
"Learning from Tim is tough because he is a sinker ball guy and I don't think I could do anything like he does. He throws a really good cutter which was interesting and maybe in the future I will be able to pick that pitch up. He is very calm when it comes to the game as well. He is laid back and lets things happen. He has an amazing arm. Somehow he can just pick up a ball and he is ready to do some long toss. It is amazing to watch."
Hudson and Crawford aren't the only Major Leaguers Dayton hopes to learn from. As soon as he reports to the Marlins' training facility in Jupiter, Fla., Dayton hopes to learn not only from the Major League pitchers, but the hitters as well.
"I think it will be important for me to learn how they stay mentally focused day in and day out," Dayton said. "They play more games than we do which means they have another month of having to be mentally prepared. Hopefully I can learn how they stay so consistent because at the higher levels of baseball, obviously talent is huge, but one of the main things that separate players is consistency. If I can just pick up something they think about or they do, that would be great."
Dayton hopes to not only improve his repertoire while in Spring Training, but his main goal is to just stay healthy.
"I still want to get a better breaking ball. The better the breaking ball is, the easier it will be for me to get left-handed hitters out. If I can pick up anything that will help me with my breaking ball, I am all ears. Those guys have been doing it in the Major Leagues, so they know.
"I am just trying to stay healthy and make the team. I am thinking I will be in Double-A coming out of Spring Training, but I am going to compete and show them what I got and let them decide where I need to be. I just want to be healthy for the season. I think I ended on a pretty good note last year and learned to develop a pretty good breaking ball. I'm sure I can learn something, but the main thing is that I want to be healthy."
by Evan Roberts, Auburn Media Relations Assistant
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