When the Portland Sea Dogs five-man pitching rotation was announced, four names immediately popped off the page; Drake Britton, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo.
Stuck in the middle of that bunch is Kyle Kaminska, an unfamiliar face to those who keep close watch over the tilled soil on the Red Sox farm.
Acquired in the offseason via a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Zach Stewart, Kaminska is now trying to adjust to life with his second new team in less than a year.
“Being traded for a second time, it’s a second set of unfamiliar faces,” said Kaminska. “I’ve played against many of them, but you don’t know them. As I’ve gotten to know them, they are a great bunch of guys, so it’s going to be a lot of fun this season.”
A 25th-round selection by the Marlins in 2007 out of Naperville (Illinois) High School, the 6’4” righty spent his first four seasons working on his raw abilities in rookie and A-ball.
In his sixth season he finally worked his way up to Triple-A New Orleans, made two appearances, but at the end of July he was headed to Pittsburgh as part of the Gaby Sanchez trade.
Again Kaminska found himself in A-ball, but by season’s end he was back in Double-A, this time getting a taste of the Eastern League with the Altoona Curve.
Considering he played for four different teams during his 2012 season, he survived the challenge and to his credit posted a 9-4 record over 40 appearances, only four of which were starts.
Following the 2012 season the Pirates decided to send Kaminska to Scottsdale of the Arizona Fall League and the 24-year-old opened eyes in going 3-1 in six starts with a 1.61 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, with 21 Ks and only 4 walks.
He’ll be the first person to tell you that his stuff isn’t overpowering, but what he lacks in power he makes up for in command, posting a 1.89 walks-per-nine-innings average over his 488+ career innings of work.
“I’m going come in here and throw a lot of strikes,” said Kaminska. “I try to pound the bottom of the zone and get a lot of ground balls. I like to work quick.
“If there is anything I need to be working on [this season], it’s the finer points of the game. Working on my off speed stuff. I can throw it all for strikes, but it’s just a matter of tighten them up and making everything look like my fastball when I throw it.”
He came into the league as a starter, but was converted to a reliever by Miami before Pittsburgh decided to work him back as a starter in Arizona.
Now the Red Sox will keep him in that role, hopeful that he can be a solid compliment to a stable of stud arms in Portland this season.
Kaminska makes his organizational debut on Saturday afternoon when the Sea Dogs host the Trenton Thunder in game three of the 2013 season.
The Vazquez Factor
One added bonus that Kaminska, and the rest of his staff will benefit from this season is having Christian Vazquez behind the plate to guide them.
It’s the same approach that he takes for every pitcher he catches for.
Vazquez’s stock has been sky-rocketing over the last year or so, and his reputation as the best catching prospect in the Red Sox organization, is cemented in his defensive prowess.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things,” said Kaminska of Vazquez.” I heard he can really throw it. That’s going to take a lot of pressure off of our shoulders in the running game. We got to make sure we are quick to the plate to give him a chance to throw out the guy at second or third base.”
Vazquez ability to throw out would-be base stealers is suddenly keeping teams closer to the bag.
Last season between Salem and Portland, the 22-year-old backstop threw out 49 of the 122 runners who tried to advance on him and in the first two games of 2013, the Trenton Thunder haven't dared make a move towards advancing a base.
In his first five professional seasons he has thrown out 35% of base stealers and coupled those numbers with a .988 fielding percentage.
Throwing runners out is something Vazquez takes great pride in, along with his overall defense and his ability to call the proper game to fit his pitchers abilities.
“Defense first and offense second,” said Vazquez. “I block [the hype] out and just play the game and get better every day. I want 1.000% in [fielding percentage] and to get the win.”
In the offseason he honed these skills even further when he played in both the Arizona Fall League and the Puerto Rican Winter League and by Spring Training he was the name on everybody's lips when it came to the catching position, especially those who have had the opportunity to work directly with him.
“He obviously keeps getting better every year so that’s definitely a confidence booster throwing every game,” said Anthony Ranaudo, who gets his first start on Monday. “I pitched to him in Greenville and Salem a little bit.
“He’s probably the best catcher that I have thrown to. I’ve heard a lot of people say that he could catch in the big leagues right now, so to have him on our team to kind of corral this staff should be fun.”
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