Rob Kaminsky just finished playing center field in the first game of a doubleheader for New Jersey-based Tri-State Arsenal, the same travel program that produced Major League phenom Mike Trout.
Kaminsky had center field glory squarely in his vision when his hitting coach, Mike Thompson, pulled the teenager aside. The conversation wasn't about hitting.
"I played center field my whole life," Kaminsky said. "I had a gifted arm, and I'd come in and pitch an inning or two to close a game. I never thought of myself as a pitcher. [Thompson] said, 'Try this,' and I spiked a curveball. Ever since then, it just clicked."
Kaminsky said he didn't start learning to pitch until his sophomore season at St. Joseph High School in Montvale, New Jersey.
"I loved playing center," Kaminsky said. "I loved playing every day. Pitching was new to me. I was fortunate to get good advice, and I ran with it."
Kaminsky, a 5-foot-11, 191-pound 19-year old left-hander, is still running with pitching. Drafted in the first round in 2013 (28th overall) by the St. Louis Cardinals, Kaminsky is putting up exceptional numbers for the Class A Peoria Chiefs. He is 4-2 with a 1.64 ERA, has struck out 51 and walked 21.
Interestingly, Kaminsky is at his best under the bright lights. He is 4-0 with a 0.76 ERA (three earned runs in 35 2/3 innings), striking out 37 and walking four in six night games, but he's 0-2 with a 2.67 ERA (nine earned runs in 30 1/3 innings), striking out 14 and walking 17 in six day games.
Ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Cardinals organization, Kaminsky said he still feels new to pitching.
"I'm always asking questions, trying to soak everything in," Kaminsky said. "I'm probably annoying [manager] Joe Kruzel and [pitching coach] Jason Simontacchi with all of the questions I have about pitching for them.
"The Cardinals have done an awesome job with me. I'm grateful to the Cardinals organization. Jason Simontacchi has done a great job of teaching me a lot of different grips and teaching me the mental side. The biggest thing for me is to continue to improve my fastball command and control the running game, and develop my change-up more."
Simontacchi said Kaminsky goes to great lenghts to learn about pitching.
"Rob is a very hard worker," said Simontacchi, a 40-year-old right-hander who spent four seasons in the Majors, mostly with St. Louis. "He obviously listens a lot, observes and asks questions. He goes about learning about pitching the right way. He's young, but he's pretty intelligent and savvy about the game already. He's trying to gain as much knowledge as he can. He asks a lot of questions, but they're good ones."
With a fastball clocked at 94 mph, the southpaw is even better known for his curveball, which has been rated by several scouts and organization as the No. 1 curve in the Midwest League. Kaminsky said his curveball isn't at the top of its game.
"It hasn't been as good this year," Kaminsky said of the curve. "It's getting people out, so I'm happy with it. It can always get better."
Kaminsky said he learned to throw the curve by watching video of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
"I watch more video of Clayton Kershaw than I watch of me," Kaminsky said. "He's a guy I look up to, and I'm trying to follow in his footsteps. I'm my own person, but he's the best on the planet. I love studying him."
Simontacchi said consistency is a key area in developing the curveball.
"Rob has command of his curveball, and, at times, it can be sharp when he gets out and finishes pitches and gets extension," Simontacchi said. "Other times, he'll leave it short, he'll short-arm it a little bit and it gets loopy. That's one thing he's been working on -- to get more consistent with that and keep it down in the zone."
Bullpen dominance: Relief pitchers for Great Lakes combined for 14 strikeouts in a 4-2 victory against Kane County on Saturday. Every Cougars batter after the fourth inning was retired via the strikeout except one as Jake Hannemann flew out in the eighth. Ralston Cash struck out six in two innings, Jacob Rhame fanned five in two frames and Matt Campbell struck out three in the ninth.
Hot July: Outfielder Clint Frazier, a first-round pick for the Cleveland Indians (fifth overall) in the 2013 Draft, eliminated a kick from his batting stance and has seen results. Frazier is hitting .352 in 18 games in July (25-for-71) with five homers and 12 RBIs. He is hitting .266 in 83 games overall with 10 homers and 36 RBIs.
Marathon battle: West Michigan and Burlington battled for 15 innings Saturday in a game that took four hours, 36 minutes to complete. Burlington scored a 4-3 win after Eric Aguilera's homer in the top of the 15th. Burlington's victory ended a seven-game winning streak by West Michigan as Bees pitchers threw 11 consecutive shutout innings.