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Pfeifer's trying path from LSAT to cusp of MLB

@mlbbowman
February 15, 2020

NORTH POINT, Fla. -- A nightmare 2018 season led Philip Pfeifer to make law school plans, which were put on hold after he spent last summer resuscitating his big league dream that could be realized with the Braves this year. “\Pfeifer] is just one of the most genuine, hard-working people,”

NORTH POINT, Fla. -- A nightmare 2018 season led Philip Pfeifer to make law school plans, which were put on hold after he spent last summer resuscitating his big league dream that could be realized with the Braves this year.

“[Pfeifer] is just one of the most genuine, hard-working people,” Braves left-hander Max Fried. “Obviously, he’s been able to overcome some stuff, especially with his dad passing away out of nowhere. To see how he’s been able to overcome that and see where he is now is incredible.”

Pfeifer certainly never envisioned being placed on the Braves’ 40-man roster in November. Heck, he didn’t even think he’d still be playing professional baseball right now. Yet the 27-year-old southpaw has come to Spring Training with realistic hopes to become a part of Atlanta’s bullpen at some point this year.

“You just never know,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “How many guys over the years have we seen who have kept fighting and grinding, and then the next thing you know they work their way back in the picture? He’s left-handed. There’s always room for those guys. That’s why you have patience and keep trying different things.”

Pfeifer’s patience was repeatedly tested in 2018. He admittedly put too much pressure on himself after gaining his first invitation to big league camp, then produced a 5.73 ERA over 39 combined appearances with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett. All of the frustration felt on the mound that year was trumped by the pain of July 1, when his 65-year-old father suffered a fatal heart attack.

Forced to ponder his baseball future after the mentally taxing season, Pfeifer decided he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps by becoming an attorney. He worked at a law firm near his Knoxville, Tenn., residence, studied for the LSAT and passed it before heading to last year’s Spring Training hoping to just enjoy what would likely be his final baseball season.

When he went to lunch with Fried that spring, Pfeifer explained his plan to enter law school soon after the season concluded.

“The 2018 season kind of put a bad taste in my mouth,” Pfeifer said. “It was tough finishing that year. I was like, ‘I want to go out with good memories.'"

Pfeifer’s good memories of 2019 developed after a mediocre month with Double-A Mississippi led the Braves to send him to Class A Advanced Florida to serve as a starter. He improved with the chance to work on more of his pitches over multiple innings, pitching well enough to end the year with three relief appearances at the Triple-A level.

Over his final 70 combined innings with Florida, Mississippi and Gwinnett, Pfeifer compiled a 1.16 ERA, 97 strikeouts and just 14 walks while limiting opponents to a .201 batting average. Instead of entering law school this past winter, he played in the Australian Baseball League and gained his first 40-man roster spot.

“We laugh about it a lot,” Pfeifer said. “What a year. What an absolute year. This game is insane.”

With Will Smith currently the only left-hander in Atlanta’s projected bullpen, Snikter will likely look to add at least one more. Cole Hamels' injury increases the possibility Sean Newcomb will begin the year in the rotation. So Pfeifer could compete with fellow lefties Chris Rusin, A.J. Minter and Grant Dayton for one of the last available bullpen spots.

“I’m really glad to see things worked out,” Fried said. “He’s here now and has a really good opportunity to make the team and make some noise.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.