All-Star in the Sunshine State
By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, June 10, 2018
There is a group text message involving some recent East Carolina baseball players.
They are great friends, and it is during these messages about jobs or social plans when Evan Kruczynski is reminded how lucky he is to be a professional baseball player.
There is a grind associated with the day-to-day aspect of the minor leagues, but Kruczynski has quickly learned to appreciate his opportunity after being selected by the St. Louis Cardinals a year ago in the ninth round of the MLB draft. This year marks his first full minor league season, and he was recently named a high Single-A Florida State League All-Star thanks to his 56 strikeouts in 54 innings ranking top-five in the league.
“It’s not for everybody,” Kruczynski said during a phone interview Friday. “But I’m playing baseball for a living and I have to take every day like it’s another opportunity to get to play this game for a living. I look at it as a testament to the hard work over the years and give thanks to my parents and family and coaches and anyone who has helped me just to get to this point, because I can only take it day by day and soak in everything that I can with this game.”
Kruczynski is currently nursing a hamstring strain, but he has proven to be one of the most reliable pitchers in the Florida State League while playing for the Palm Beach Cardinals. He has a 4-1 record and 3.83 ERA in 11 starts.
When asked about his success, Kruczynski quickly pointed to what he learned from ECU veteran pitching coach Dan Roszel and being able to refine those traits in the minors.
“Now that I am in pro ball, I understand why he has produced so many professional pitchers, and it’s because he makes you pitch off of your fastball,” said Kruczynski, a 6-foot-5 left-hander who in 2016 at Texas Tech was the winning pitcher for the only NCAA super regional game the Pirates have ever won. “That’s what you have to do if you want to move up in this game and get to the next level. When I stepped into spring training, the first thing a pitching coordinator said to me was that if you want to pitch in the big leagues, then you have to command your fastball on both sides of the plate, and I wish I had a nickel for every time coach Roszel told me that.”
Kruczynski pitched for the Single-A Peoria Chiefs last summer and posted a solid 3.43 ERA. He was at ECU last fall to complete his degree in recreation and park management and said he has aspirations of coaching after his playing career.
The tall lefty said he enjoyed being in Greenville during the fall and spending time with the Pirates, and that having a full offseason to train and prepare for this season also set him up to succeed.
“Last year was just so hectic,” he said. “From getting injured and coming back to grind out the rest of the college season and then getting drafted and sent right away to a full-season team, it was just a lot going on in a small period of time. I don’t think I really got to process what it meant to get sent straight to a full-season team.
“This year is just a lot different, even though it’s a bunch of the same guys I’m playing with. From a confidence standpoint and my body and being able to set preseason goals, I can go about it a different way.”
Kruczynski was the only Pirate drafted in 2016 or ’17. This year, ECU had three juniors picked and all three are turning pro instead of returning for their senior seasons.
Right-handed hurler Chris Holba went to the Cardinals in the 11th round and was in frequent contact with Kruczynski during the draft process.
“We’ve become pretty good friends over the years and it’s kind of crazy when you look back and we had pretty similar careers at East Carolina,” Kruczynski said. “He worked his tail off from what he did his freshman year to the results you saw this year. … I tuned in to the draft and saw he got picked and got butterflies because I remembered that feeling I got when I saw my name pop up on the screen with the Cardinals. It’s just unreal to see his hard work pay off and to join this organization.”
Contact Ronnie Woodward at email@example.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.