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Kaminsky's motto leads to mound success

Cardinals' determined No. 2 prospect transformed into elite southpaw
January 28, 2015

On a summer night in 2009, Rob Kaminsky jogged to the mound from the outfield. The then-position player was called upon to pitch again.

It was the first time opposing coach Jim Wladyka saw the 14-year-old pitch and he remembered being impressed with the teenager on the mound.

"I know he struck out the side, I know he threw 12 fastballs and beat everyone with fastballs," said Wladyka, who eventually became Kaminsky's private pitching coach "He just had the look, he had the tenacity and he had the stuff of the makings of a real good pitcher going forward."

But the young New Jersey native actually wasn't thinking about potential, he just saw himself as a substitute on the mound.

"I wouldn't call it pitching, I would just come in and try to throw as hard as possible, just like any kid," he said with a laugh.

The Cardinals' second-ranked prospect didn't consider himself a hurler until his sophomore year at St. Joseph Regional School, when his coach moved him from the outfield to the rotation. Although he loved center field, Kaminsky did what he was told, keeping his personal mantra in mind.

"It's pretty simple -- either you do it or you don't," he said. "There's no trying, you either successfully do it or you don't do it. There's no reason to whine about something, you do or don't."

• More quotes from Cardinals prospect Rob Kaminsky and his coaches »

With "nice try" not an option, the southpaw worked to become the best pitcher he could be, starting with watching tape of the modern-day best -- Clayton Kershaw. Kaminsky tried to emulate the mechanics of the Dodgers ace and how he set up hitters. Even now, the 20-year-old still watches more film of the Cy Young Award winner than he does of himself.

"[Kaminsky] always had the best breaking ball around here, he always had the best velocity around here, but the fastball command is what he really needed," said Wladyka. "When we slowed him down and really got up and down over the rubber like Clayton Kershaw does, it helped Rob. I think that was that separating year for him, his junior year of high school."

After a breakout campaign in what he considered his second season as a pitcher, Kaminsky drew national attention his senior year of high school when he notched a 0.14 ERA with an 8-0 record over eight starts -- staying on the mound until the final out for seven of those games.

The Cardinals snagged the 5-foot-11 hurler 28th overall in the 2013 Draft on a Thursday. On Friday, Kaminksy's bedroom walls were no longer pinstriped for his former favorite team, the Yankees, but doused in red paint for the "King of the NL."

"It's a pretty nice privilege to have, to go out there and pitch every day. Not every kid gets the experience, so if I don't put everything into it, I feel like I'm just taking it for granted and I'll never allow that," he said. "I'm just going to go out there and compete for my team. The Cardinals invested in me, so I owe it to them to do everything I can to win the game for them."

While the ability to repeat his delivery and throw offspeed pitches for strikes help's No. 93 prospect succeed in the Minors, Wladyka said what really separates him from the other pitchers he's seen is the southpaw's ability to win.

Although he didn't record a victory in his first professional season, Kaminsky put his team in the position to win by not allowing an earned run over his first 12 1/3 innings with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast Cardinals. While he had a relatively successful first season, the lefty went into the offseason with a laundry list of things to work on.

"When I went to the GCL, I learned that 90 miles an hour isn't going to cut it. So I had to redefine myself as not only a power pitcher, but also you got to work corners, you got to set up hitters, change eye levels and all that stuff," he said. "The Cardinals helped me a lot these last two years, learning how to pitch and not just throw."

As good as Kaminsky was, he was actively working to get better. Over 18 starts with Class A Peoria, the 2013 Draft pick never let his ERA surpass 2.30.

"He had more of the so-called count awareness, gain vision of what's going on, he was more comfortable with that," Chiefs pitching coach Jason Simontacci said. "He developed a changeup that really got him to get ground balls, soft contact, stuff like that, so he gained some confidence with that pitch. It showed and helped his curveball out as well."

As he continued to develop his changeup and ask questions of his pitching coach, Kaminsky's ERA dropped to a season-low 1.26 on June 30 -- though the only stat he cares about from that day is that Peoria won the game.

The southpaw's numbers impressed the Cardinals -- a 1.88 ERA with an 8-2 record over 18 starts -- but Simontacci thinks age was the biggest factor in keeping Kaminsky from a midseason promotion. He didn't turn 20 until September.

"[Kaminsky is] very inquisitive about the game, about what he needs to do to get better. He was a student of the game, very competitive," Simontacci said. "He was listening and I think he was taking advantage of the opportunity he had and trying to make the best of it, there's no question about that."

Even in his last game of the season, Kaminsky was looking to be the pitcher he set out to be when he first got the ball in 10th grade.

On the eve of his 20th birthday, the Peoria starter yielded three runs on three hits in the first inning against Kane County, but he didn't give up against the first-place Cougars. That's when his pitching coach saw the "do or don't" mentality emerge again.

"After that, he just shut everybody down," Simontacci said as Kaminsky faced the minimun over the next three innings. "He's got that bulldog mentality. It's something that you really can't teach. It's something they either have it or they don't, and he's got it for sure."

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.