Lotzkar learning in Dayton
Tuesday, June 24, 2008, 10:41 PM EST
DAYTON -- Pitcher Kyle Lotzkar of the Dayton Dragons describes himself as a "failed hockey player."
"I did play hockey, the thing you'll notice about most Canadian baseball players is that they're failed hockey players," said Lotzkar, who is from British Columbia.
That failure at hockey came pretty early, said Lotzkar.
"Around when I was 10," Lotzkar said. "It was the first time I'd gotten cut from a rec team, so I figured baseball would be my No. 1 sport and I shifted away from hockey."
It wasn't until several years later that Lotzkar even thought of baseball as a possible career. He played baseball quite a bit, but it wasn't really until last year that he thought of himself becoming a pro baseball player.
"I kind of put on a lot of weight my draft year and my velocity went up as a result," said Lotzkar, selected by the Reds with a supplemental first-round pick in last year's draft. "I put on 15 pounds of muscle and started working out for the first time. Scouts started coming out and that's when I realized I had the potential to play pro baseball. I was a late bloomer, and you see a lot of late bloomers in Canada because of the long winters."
Lotzkar said his school didn't really have baseball, instead he played with a club team. Three or four times a week he'd join his team in Langley, another suburb of Vancouver, but a 45-minute drive away from his home in Tsawwassen, B.C.
Those drives, plus a year he spent playing for a team in Seattle -- three hours away -- prepared him for the life of a minor leaguer, at least the travel if not the competition.
Lotzkar struggled early in Tuesday's 7-5 Dragons' loss to South Bend (Diamondbacks) in Class A Midwest League action, but only one of the four first-inning runs by the Silver Hawks was earned. After an error by third baseman Brandon Waring, Lotzkar surrendered a home run to South Bend rightfielder Derrick Walker.
He got out of the inning and then walked two in the second, the second walk loading the bases with tow outs, but rebounded to get out of the inning starting a streak of 10 consecutive batters to finish his outing. He struck out the side in the third and finished with six strikeouts and three walks while allowing only three hits -- all in the first inning.
"This is going to be a learning process for him, he's a young kid," Scott said. "He's got to focus a little better, and he showed the last couple of innings he could. His stuff is good enough to be here, he's just in the process of learning how to pitch at the pro level. It's going to take time and he's going to get the time. The kid's got great stuff and when he figures that out and works the low zone, he's going to be fine."
Dayton pitching coach Doug Blair visited the mound after the leadoff batter, Evan Frey, doubled off of Lotzkar. Blair could tell Lotzkar was aiming, and he continued to aim throughout the first inning. And when he missed, he missed up and Walker made him pay.
"I talked to Doug after the inning and made an adjustment," Lotzkar said. "I wasn't focusing on the catcher's target, I was focusing on the hitters. I made that adjustment and did better."
Lotzkar was making just his third start in the Midwest League. He made nine starts last season and went a combined 0-2 with a 3.10 ERA with the Gulf Coast League Reds and Billings. He was rated as the team's 11th best prospect by Baseball America before the season and started this season in extended spring training.
Not only is Lotzkar nearly a year-and-a-half younger than any of his teammates, he was the youngest player on either roster by a full year -- with South Bend pitcher Jarron Parker sharing Lotzkar’s Nov. 24 birthday. Parker, the youngest Silver Hawk, was born in 1988. Lotzkar was born in 1989.
Playing in Canada for most of his life, Lotzkar was surprised to see the crowds in Dayton when he first came up and he admitted he was a bit intimidated. Tuesday’s crowd was 8,428 and the Dragons routinely sell out Fifth Third Field.
"So far, I've been a little nervous in front of the fans," Lotzkar said before Tuesday’s game. "My mechanics were all right and I left the ball up. I had trouble getting out of the first inning. Today if I get out of the first inning, I'll be OK."
He didn't, but he was OK. And with three starts under his belt, Lozkar is 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA, but he's showing why he's so highly regarded by the Reds, even if he won’t be expected in Cincinnati anytime soon. He throws in the low 90s and has a good curveball and good sink when he's throwing well.
"He's got the stuff, it's going to happen," Scott said. "He's going to go through some growing pains, but that’s good for him, to face some adversity and go through some growing pains, that's going to make him tougher."