KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The two players the Astros received from the Braves in a January trade that sent three prospects to Atlanta have done some soul-searching away from the game -- slugger Evan Gattis working odd jobs that range from ski lift operator to janitor, and pitcher James Hoyt working on sailboats.
Both eventually got back to baseball, and Gattis established himself as a power threat by hitting 43 homers during the past two years with the Braves. Hoyt, a 28-year-old right-hander who stands at 6-foot-5, is still trying to reach the big leagues, but the fact that he's this close is a credit to his resolve.
While the Astros have made high-profile bullpen additions with Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek and even Joe Thatcher, Hoyt could be a sleeper. In two seasons in the Braves' system, he appeared in only 91 games and has 182 strikeouts in 142 innings.
"I'm ready to be used at any point during the game. I'm here and ready to pitch and excited for the opportunity. We have a great bullpen, and I want to be a part of it."
He's throwing a mid-90s fastball, slider and splitter, which has always been a pitch he would throw and eventually back away from. He's using it more these days.
"I'm working with the coaches here and trying to get repetition with it and trying to get it consistent with what I want to do, which way I want to move it, and it's fun," Hoyt said. "I'm excited about that pitch."
Undrafted out of Centenary College in Louisiana, Hoyt worked on sailboats in San Diego before deciding to give baseball another go. He impressed enough at a tryout with the independent Yuma Scorpions to land a job in 2011 -- where he was making $600 a month -- and spent part of the next season playing in the Mexican League, making some good money. As his velocity continued to rise, scouts took notice. The Braves signed him out of the independent league with a bonus of $500 in 2013.
"It was just opportunity, and where I was," he said. "I really wasn't working hard. It wasn't in my heart, honestly. I was putting everything towards baseball. I liked it, I enjoyed the game, it got me through college, and I have a degree, and I can't speak more highly of it.
"I had a limited amount of innings in college because of an injury, but when I started getting my feet wet and throwing more and getting more innings under my belt, [I thought] this is something I felt I could see myself doing as a career. That's when it clicked and I started working harder and got to be where I am now."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.