Michael Tonkin is a name that many Braves fans may have heard over the first few weeks of the 2023 Major League Baseball season. He’s done some nice work over five outings with Atlanta to kick off the year, but who is he? Where did we get this guy and why don’t I recall hearing much about him? Well, it’s a long story. This will take quite some time to write so I can’t imagine what this journey has felt like to Michael Tonkin. It got all of the good stuff. The ups, the downs and countless early mornings and late nights, I’m sure. His story is fascinating and I really think it highlights what this game means to these players. Some people will do whatever it takes to get back to the show, and he’s done it all and then some.
Michael Harvey Tonkin was Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 30th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft from Palmdale High School in Palmdale, CA. He was the 906th overall pick. He would throw his first inning of professional baseball on August 8th, 2008 for the Gulf Coast League Twins. He came in to toss the fifth inning where he went scoreless. He even recorded his first strikeout. Not a bad day at the office. He would go on to make five more appearances for the GCL Twins that summer and put a bow on his first year of pro ball with a 3.27 ERA over eleven innings.
This year would prove to be a continuation of the last. Tonkin would throw 54 innings in the Gulf Coast League from June to August and finish his second year with a 3.62 ERA. He would also pick up his first win of his career against the GCL Red Sox on July 16th. He threw seven scoreless innings and only gave up two hits. What’s more impressive is that he recorded no walks. He also struck out fifteen batters. I figured that was also worth mentioning.
This year we begin to see a little movement. Tonkin would split time between the Beloit Snappers (Beloit, WI) of the Midwest League and the Elizabethtown Twins (Elizabethtown, TN) of the Appalachian League. He logged 90 innings between the two clubs and wrapped up his season with a 4-6 record and a 3.40 ERA. Not bad for a twenty year old.
In 2011, Tonkin would find himself back in Beloit, Wisconsin. He spun 76.2 innings for the Snappers. He went 4-3 with a 3.87 ERA and a 1.383 WHIP. This is when Tonkin began to see more time coming out of the bullpen. He only started three games this year but finished 17 (2 SV).
This year starts in Beloit as well. He would stay with the Snappers from April to June before being moved to the High-A affiliate, Fort Meyers Miracle. Tonkin would go on to throw 30.1 innings for the Miracle to the tune of a 2.97 ERA. He would record six saves and rack up 44 strikeouts over those thirty innings of work. Michael would round out his season by throwing 14.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League with the Peoria Javelinas (2.45).
New Britain, CT, home of the New Britain Rock Cats. He would start the spring for the Eastern League, AA Twins affiliate. A 2.22 ERA and seven saves would be good enough to promote a now 23 year old Tonkin to Triple-A Rochester on May 30th. But he wouldn’t be with the Red Wings for long. Tonkin would get the call to the majors on July 11th of the same year and make his big league debut against the Tampa Bay Rays. He would come in to throw an inning and a third late in the game and retire all four batters he faced on just twelve pitches. He also recorded his first major league strikeout. This stint would be short lived as he would be sent back down just three days later. He would get another cup of coffee on August 21st but would again be optioned in the coming days. Tonkin got the call once more in September and would finish out the year with the big league club. Eleven and a third innings pitched. 0.79 ERA.
Tonkin would make the opening day roster this season but it was not a long stay. His earned run average ballooned to 6.97 by May 13th and he was optioned back to Triple-A Rochester. He righted the ship and racked up ten saves with a 2.80 ERA in the International League and was back in the bigs on September 2nd. He would finish out the season with an ERA just south of five over nineteen innings.
This year was more up and down. He began the year with the Red Wings but would be called up to Minnesota before the clock struck May. On May 30th he would be back to Triple-A Rochester. He was recalled to Minnesota on June 3rd. He was sent back to AAA on June 4th. Majors on June 12th, but Rochester again on the 26th. On August 14th he would find himself back in the Twin Cities. Guess where he was on the 17th. Rochester. Tonkin would be back with the big league club for the final nine games of the season.
Rochester: 41 IP, 1.10 ERA, 46 K, 14 SV
Minnesota: 23.1 IP, 3.47 ERA, 19 K, 0 SV
Believe it or not, Michael Tonkin spent the entirety of the 2016 MLB season with the Minnesota Twins. He finished his first full major league campaign with a 5.02 ERA over 71.2 Innings. This isn’t the best line we’ve ever seen, but it sure as hell beats all of the driving he did the previous year. I hope he had the foresight not to break his lease in New York.
Tonkin once again found himself with the big league club in early April, but he would spend the dog days of summer with the Rochester Red Wings. He would be back with the Twins for the last handful of September contests.
Rochester: 41 IP, 1.10 ERA, 46 K, 14 SV
Minnesota: 23.1 IP, 3.47 ERA, 19 K, 0 SV
Michael Tonkin’s contract was sold to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball on November 9, 2017. He would compile a 3.63 ERA and twelve saves over 52 innings pitched in his time in Japan. He left the country with a 4-4 record and came back stateside as a free agent.
Tonkin signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers organization on January 8th, 2019. He was subsequently released by the Rangers on March 21st. The very next day he signed a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. Michael recorded a 4.23 ERA over twelve and two thirds innings with the Brewers Triple-A affiliate San Antonio Missions before being released on June 10th. A week later on June 18th, 2019, Tonkin signed a contract with the Long Island Ducks. The Ducks play in an independent partner league of MLB known as the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB). The team is based in Central Islip, New York. Tonkin found great success on Long Island as he posted a 0.34 ERA with 31 K’s through 26.2 IP. This performance was good enough to gain the attention of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The club purchased his contract on August 18th. He reported to the AAA affiliate Reno Aces where he struggled mightily. Five appearances through the final week of August yielded a 7.71 ERA for Tonkin.
The Covid-19 pandemic ultimately led to the cancelation of the 2020 MILB season. Without throwing another pitch for the Diamondbacks organization, Tonkin was released on May 22nd.
Michael Tonkin went on to sign a second contract with the Long Island Ducks on March 31, 2021. In seventeen innings for the Ducks, he secured nine saves while posting a miniscule 0.54 ERA. This led the ALPB. This line was striking enough to catch the eye of the Mexican League club, Toros de Tijuana. The team purchased his contract on July 13th. He would only throw nine innings for the Baja, California squad and only gave up two runs in the process. Tonkin would go on to pitch in the Dominican Winter League for the Aguilas Cibaenas. 13.1 innings produced a 0.68 ERA and sixteen strikeouts.
The Atlanta Braves signed Michael Tonkin to a minor league contract on January 11, 2022. Tonkin went the distance with the Gwinnett Stripers over the course of the season from April to September. He logged 48 innings for Gwinnett and secured 16 saves while posting a 3.17 ERA over the spring and summer. Tonkin struck out 73 and carried a 1.097 WHIP into the offseason. The Atlanta Braves selected his contract on November 10th.
A now 33 year old Tonkin came in to Spring Training this year and threw 8.2 innings for Atlanta. He posted a 5.19 ERA and now he’s here. He’s playing Major League Baseball for the Atlanta Braves. Michael has only thrown nine and two thirds so far, but they’ve been some good ones. He’s got a 0.724 WHIP with the Braves and that is the second lowest mark of his long and winding career. Small sample size be damned. He’s here for a reason. Michael Tonkin earned a win in a MLB game on April 11th against the Cincinnati Reds. He relieved Kyle Wright in his season debut and spun three scoreless innings to help secure a 7-6 victory for Atlanta. His previous major league win came on September 29th, 2016. 2386 days earlier.
What’s next for Michael Tonkin? ? Believe it or not, he is out of minor league options, so I can’t say. I’m not sure if he could even tell you but I bet he’s pretty happy where he landed. He’s playing baseball for a contender in the best league on the planet. If he wrote a book, I’d read it. This man has seen more baseball in more places than most people could even fathom. I’m not sure if he fancies himself a writer but he probably has enough material to fill up a few volumes. If he continues to perform, he’ll play. If he doesn’t, I have no reason to believe that he won’t find another place to spin it. I’d much prefer the former.