By Chris McCarthy
Braxton has seen the Light in terms of a professional baseball career.
The 2014 Southside High graduate and Wallace State-Hanceville sophomore was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 24th round of the MLB draft on June 14.
“Making it to the major leagues is something that everybody wants to do, but only a small number of guys get the opportunity to do it,” said Light. “It’s a dream come true, and I just want to get out there and work hard and hopefully turn that dream into a reality. The Cubs are the defending champions, and you know they develop [players] well. It should be a great experience.”
In 46 innings this past season for Wallace-Hanceville, Light went 6-1 with 12 saves. He finished with a 1.86 earned run average and 58 strikeouts while allowing only one home run. He helped the Lions go 46-13 and win the Alabama Community College Conference North Division title.
Light has already sought the counsel of his high school coach Blake Bone, who was chosen by Seattle in the 2000 MLB draft and spent five seasons in the Mariners organization, and 2005 SHS graduate Kyle Cofield, who played several years in the Atlanta Braves and L.A. Dodgers organizations, about life in the minor leagues.
“I told Braxton that you don’t want to leave any ‘whys’ or ‘what ifs’ on the table,” said Bone. “It’s really a matter of how you handle things in that environment. Everybody’s pretty much the same as far as the talent pool goes, and I’ve seen guys waste away with partying and those types of things. But Braxton has always put the time and the effort in everything he does, and I think that he’ll continue to do that.”
Light started in the outfield for Southside since his sophomore year, when the team posted a 27-17 record and finished as the Class 5A state runner-up. He batted .350 that season along with a .475 slugging percentage and 21 RBI.
As a senior, Light batted .308 with 41 hits, 10 doubles, two triples and 26 RBI. He had six assists in the outfield while committing only one error. Southside went 27-11 and by one run in the deciding game of the state quarterfinals. He was named to the 2014 All-Messenger baseball first team as an outfielder.
“Braxton always had a big arm, but it took him a while to figure out the strike zone, which he did at Wallace and he flourished from there,” said Bone. “He has all the tools, and [Wallace-Hanceville] Coach [Randy] Putnam does a great job of developing guys. Braxton’s always had a great work ethic, so it was a recipe for success for him [at Wallace-Hanceville]. [Playing professional baseball] was always Braxton’s goal, and he’s worked very hard to get to that point. I’m very happy for Braxton to get this opportunity.”
Putman placed Light in rarified air when he compared him at this stage of development to 2008 Wallace-Hanceville graduate Craig Kimbrel, a five-time MLB All-Star relief pitcher with the Atlanta Braves who is now with the Boston Red Sox.
“One of things Craig asked me after he was drafted was if I thought he could get big league hitters out one day, and I told him that I thought he could,” said Putnam, who earned his 1,000th career win this past season. “Because of Braxton’s ability and mental attitude, I think that he can, too. I’ve been saying for the past year that I would not be surprised to see Braxton pitching in the big leagues in three or four years, and I firmly believe that. He could pitch against the New York Yankees right now and not be intimidated. One of the first things Braxton talked about when I first met him was the chance to play professional baseball, and now he has that opportunity.”
Putnam pointed to the Southside baseball program’s consistent success under Bone as a key factor in Light’s development.
“In my opinion, Blake does a phenomenal job. If you get guys who come from successful programs that have excellent instructional coaches like Southside does, it makes your job as a college coach as lot easier. It’s a big adjustment going from high school to junior college ball, and those kids are a lot further along in terms of fundamentals. You also don’t have to teach those guys how to win, because they’ve already competed at that level. It’s definitely a benefit for us.”
Light, who also had a scholarship offer from Faulkner University in Montgomery, will report to the Cubs’ Class A Rookie league affiliate in Mesa, Arizona later this week pending a physical and drug testing. He is preparing himself both mentally and physically for the grind of a minor league baseball season.
“I realize that it’s not a hobby anymore; it’s going to be my job,” he said. “That’s pretty much what you need to focus on. With practices and the traveling and night games and working out, it’s going to be a day in and day out type of thing. It’s going to be tough but you’ve just got push yourself and get through it. But I’ve done that my whole life, and I’ll just keep going about my business.”
This article was supplemented by accc.org.