March 22, 2012 at 8:00 AM
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Cody Kukuk chose to sign with the Red Sox out of high school rather than going to Kansas State because he wanted to focus exclusively on pitching.
Kukuk, the Red Sox’ fourth round pick in the 2011 draft, also saw success as a hitter in high school, and would have gone on to both hit and pitch at Kansas State. He wanted the defined role that he has found with the Red Sox.
“[Hitting] was maybe going to hold me back,” said Kukuk, “You can also risk getting hurt in college.”
Kukuk knows that his makeup makes him a rare commodity in baseball, and a valuable commodity to any organization.
“I think because I was tall and left-handed and I threw hard, [that] pretty much made me a pitcher because there aren’t that many lefties.”
Being from Kansas, Kukuk had to deal with both the bad weather as well as the added pressure he felt because he was receiving so much attention from national scouts during his senior year.
“[My biggest challenge was] slowing down and taking it all in because I never really had scouts at my games before. There were up to fifty at one game, so it got pretty crazy.”
Kukuk’s arsenal includes a fastball, a slider, and a changeup, and he throws from a three-quarters arm slot.
“My main pitch is my fastball. I establish my fastball early, then [I work in] the slider and change depending on what the batter is looking like.”
Kukuk said he gets hitters to chase his fastball because there’s a lot of movement on it. His changeup, however, is still a work in progress because he tends to leave it up.
While Kukuk was able to dominate high school hitters with his velocity, he has had to establish his off speed pitches more since joining the organization because professional hitters are more adept at dealing with high velocity pitches.
“I noticed hitters are seeing 90 mph everyday, so you have to have other pitches. In high school I could just throw fastballs by people because they didn’t really see anything else.”
Kukuk has moved over to the left side of the rubber since joining the organization because “a lot of power pitchers throw from the left side,” he said.
This spring, Kukuk is focusing on repeating his arm slot and repeating his delivery as well as his fastball and changeup command.
In his first start of the spring, he threw the third and fourth innings for the Greenville Drive.
He said he felt a little “jittery” during his first inning, in which he walked and hit a batter. In his second inning, he “slowed down a lot,” and felt comfortable with both his fastball and his off-speed pitches. “They were all working today,” he said.
Kukuk recognizes the long season ahead, but he is ready for the challenge.
“It’s a grind. You have to believe in yourself more than anything. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not going to succeed.”
Elizabeth Dreeson is a Special Contributor to SoxProspects.com. Follow her on Twitter @Eli_Dreesox.