SoxProspects News

March 26, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Kukuk seeking redemption, experience after largely lost season


When the Red Sox signed left-hander Cody Kukuk to an over-slot bonus following his selection in the 2011 draft, there was much reason for fans to be excited. Though unrefined, the raw stuff and frame of the 6-foot-4 high schooler out of Kansas left many prospect-followers dreaming on his potential.

After signing at the Aug. 15 deadline under the old draft rules, Kukuk didn't have the opportunity to pitch in the 2011 season. Heading into spring training last year there was excitement for what was to be his debut in the system.

That excitement turned to disappointment on May 13 when Kukuk was arrested on a DUI charge while in Fort Myers, Fla. attending extended spring training. The misdemeanor charge was later dropped, but the damage to his baseball season was already done. While the short-season teams began playing in mid-June, Kukuk was placed on the restricted list and didn't make his debut until Aug. 6, throwing just 10 total innings in the Gulf Coast League.

That is in the past though according to the player, and Kukuk is looking to redeem himself this season.

"It definitely taught me a lesson — never take anything for granted," he said following his spring training start on Saturday. "It's [behind] me, it's made me a better person now. I'm making better decisions, staying focused and it's paying off."

After dominating in his short time in the GCL last year to the tune of a 0.90 ERA and over five strikeouts to every walk allowed, Kukuk's raw stuff was on display in Saturday's Low A game against the Twins organization. In his four innings of work, the fastball was coming in at 90-93 mph with late life, and he leaned heavily on it throughout the outing. In fact, he barely used the slider which is currently his best secondary pitch and has plus potential.

"I threw my slider once," the 19-year-old said. "They weren't really on my fastball so I just kept throwing the fastball-change, and kept them off-balance with that.

"I'm throwing the ball well. I'm trying to establish my fastball and changeup, I felt like I did that pretty well today."

While the changeup lagged behind his other two pitches upon entering the system, he has begun to close that gap. SoxProspects.com Director of Scouting Chris Mellen wrote that the pitch looked improved at this year's Fall Instructional League, and that carried over into Saturday's outing. He threw a particularly nasty one to end the second inning on a swinging strikeout that had the other pitchers charting him behind home plate excitedly cheering. The pitch came in at 79 mph and showed solid fade as the batter swung over the top of it and was out in front.

"I felt great," he said afterwards. "I felt like I could go four more innings, you know? I've been working hard and it's been paying off."

The lefty is still very inexperienced despite being drafted in 2011. It's possible that he will end up staying behind in extended spring training again this year for that reason, but he has his sights set on a placement in Low A Greenville.

"My goal is to break [camp] with a full season club, complete a full season, and get some innings under my belt," he said. "Get some experience then get after it again next year."

Kukuk may still have a long way to go before a possible shot at the majors, but with his off-the-field trouble seemingly behind him, the big southpaw's ceiling remains very high as a future starter. Getting the professional in-game experience this year will be key to his development, and he must continue to refine his stuff and command with each level he advances to avoid stalling out.

If his progress remains steady, Kukuk is a prospect that could quickly jump up onto the radar of many Red Sox followers.

Photo credit: Cody Kukuk by Kelly O'Connor

Matt Huegel is Managing Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.

 
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