Big League Dreams: Karch Kowalczyk

A Look at Chinooks in the Minor Leagues

Karch Kowalczyk – Los Angeles Dodgers – Ogden Raptors (Rookie)

Karch1Karch Kowalczyk may not realize it, but he set a standard with the Lakeshore Chinooks during the 2013 season. Playing for several weeks with an arm injury, the 6’1” right-handed pitcher did whatever the Chinooks staff asked to find his way onto the mound. It’s a unique mentality that sets a player apart, but also can lift an entire organization. Lakeshore’s pitching coach Mark Moriarty recalls “We didn’t see him at his best but he brought that bulldog mentality even when he wasn’t 100%. He always wanted the ball and he brought professionalism and an extremely high work ethic to the park on a daily basis.” Kowalczyk made nine appearances out of the bullpen for the Chinooks in 2013, recording a 3.37 ERA with nine strikeouts and two saves in 13.1 innings, before being shutdown to rehabilitate and prepare to return to his college team at Valparaiso University.

At Valpo, despite missing his junior season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Karch amassed 24 saves–the second highest for Crusader pitchers– and recorded a 1.74 ERA.  Prior to his summer with the Chinooks, Kowalczyk was named the Horizon League Relief Pitcher of the Year.  Even though he didn’t throw with great velocity, Moriarty thought Kowalczyk would have a shot at being drafted.  “He is the type of player every coach would love to have because he goes about his business at a high level on the field and is of high character off,” says Moriarty. 

After graduating with a double major in biology and chemistry and completing his red-shirt senior season, Kowalczyk had to wait long into a frustrating 2014 MLB draft to finally hear his name called. The Los Angeles Dodgers agreed with Moriarty’s assessment that if character and toughness count for anything, Kowalczyk was worth a pick and they selected him in the 37th round. While many thought he might go much higher, Kowalczyk was excited for the opportunity saying, “When I found out, I was real emotional. It’s something that I’ve worked hard for my whole life.” Though he was in Mequon for just a short time, Kowalczyk values his Northwoods League experience and the role it played in being selected by the Dodgers. “I’m thankful for the overall collection of great people and teammates I was able to interact and make connections with. Enjoying the time with my teammates and also the Chinooks' staff allowed me to have a blast getting out on that field and compete almost every day, even with a nagging injury. My time there helped me most by introducing the ebbs and flows of playing baseball games pretty much every day. It makes a player find his true motivation and helps develop a routine that produces success.”

Kowalczyk took that motivation to Ogden, Utah to play for the Ogden Raptors, the Dodgers’ rookie level team in the Pioneer League. Combined with a brief appearance for the Dodgers rookie team in the Arizona League, he posted a 4.10 ERA with five saves and 25 strikeouts in 26.1 innings of work. He now hopes that his bulldog personality will push him through the offseason as he attempts to earn a full-time spot in the Los Angeles organization saying, “I know all I can do is work hard and leave it all out on the field, and then the final decision is out of my hands.” In the meantime, Kowalczyk has been putting his degree to work.  “During the offseason I have been working just about every day as a substitute teacher at the high school level to keep me busy and make some extra cash.” Kowalczyk hopes, though, that he can put the teaching career off for a while and climb his way up the organization’s depth chart. Based on his history, don’t count him out!