ONE STEP CLOSER: Karch Kowalczyk
Los Angeles Dodgers / Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Class A-Advanced)
Mequon, WI – When Karch Kowalczyk was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers (1,119th overall pick in the 37th round of the 2014 MLB Draft) he was cleaning out the gutters of his parent’s house and preparing for his future career as a high school teacher. As a late round pick in the 40 round draft, few people gave Kowalczyk a chance to progress through the minors; however fans and staff of the Lakeshore Chinooks knew that the feisty right-handed reliever from Valparaiso had the moxie it takes to not just survive minor league baseball, but to thrive and progress.
After striking out 25 batters and recording four saves in 26.1 innings during his rookie season of 2014 with the Dodgers’ Arizona League rookie team and their Pioneer League team in Ogden, UT, Kowalczyk has steadily improved on the mound since being allowed to focus solely on pitching. After hitting and playing as a two-way player in college, Kowalczyk reports that all of his pitches have improved. His fastball now sits between 91 and 94 mph and has topped out at 98. With an improved slider, Kowalczyk began 2015 with the Class A Great Lakes Loons where he recorded six saves in seven opportunities and struck out 19 batters while posting an ERA of 2.53 in 32 innings. That performance earned a promotion to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes where Kowalczyk saved two more games as he struck out 35 in 31.2 innings. So rather than cleaning out gutters, Kowalczyk was surging through single A ball in hopes of moving on in the year to come.
Kowalczyk had these reflections on the 2015 season:
1. I ended this past season in high-A out in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, so my next step from there would be to elevate my game further and advance to double-A Tulsa. I am fully aware my journey is a process, so I do not expect the climb to be a perfectly smooth ascent. What will help me reach and surpass my goals will be a combination of disciplined hard work on personal conditioning, nutrition, developing a repeatable pitching delivery, and also just some straight dumb luck.
2. My best personal minor league moment to date would definitely being able to pitch and perform in front of over 20 family members and friends as our Great Lakes Loons played in the Quad Cities against the River Bandits. Also the team camaraderie involved while winning the California League Championship this past September was incredible.
3. I haven't really been a part of any promotion, contest, or prank shenanigans myself, but I did particularly take notice of one in Lake Elsinore, CA. What goes on there is a man in a squirrel suit races against a kid across the outfield foul-pole to foul-pole. The kid gets a large head start each and every time, sometimes even half of the distance, before the former division-1 NCAA sprinter in the squirrel suit takes off. Once he does take off, there is no mercy whatsoever. That squirrel isn't losing a race any time soon.
4. For the most difficult part of the minors, I would have to say it is the "great unknown" that we have to deal with. The only thing a minor league player knows is what he has to do that day to get better and compete. The less a player worries about what other players and people within an organization are thinking, the clearer the mind will be for focusing on self-performance.
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The Northwoods League is the proven leader in the development of elite college baseball players. The 22-year old summer collegiate league is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 18 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 140 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Lucas Duda (NYM) and Ben Zobrist (KC). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League website. For more information, visit www.northwoodsleague.com.