He’s a dark horse of sorts at the Mets spring training complex in Port St. Lucie. With so much attention fixed on young Met pitching guns, a list that includes Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom, and Cory Mazzoni, this tall left-handed relief specialist doesn’t command much hype. Yet, don’t be surprised if by the end of the Met’s Florida camp, if 24-year old Adam Kolarek has turned the heads of Met fans.
Quietly, Kolarek has built an impressive pitching resume in the Mets minor leagues. With each year, and at every level he pitches, the 6’3,” 215-pound lefty keeps getting better. Note Kolarek’s ERA totals pitching in four seasons in the minors for the Mets; 3.13, 2.85, 2.70, 2.28. Kolarek was brilliant out of the pen last season in Binghamton throwing in 44 games covering 63.0 innings, with a 1.71 ERA, while fanning 63 batters and walking only 22. Kolarek only allowed 47 hits in 2013 and only 3 of his pitches left the park.
Several factors might contribute to Kolarek’s steady progress and upward trend as he marches through the Mets system. Baseball is part of Kolarek’s DNA. Kolarek grew up with the game. Adam’s Dad, Frank was a catcher in the Oakland A’s system from 1976-1982 and currently works as a scout for the Baltimore Orioles. “When I was a kid, I didn’t feel like I had to be forced to go outside. I’d hurry up to get home from school just to meet back up and play before the sun went down.”
Frank Kolarek has been and continues to be a baseball mentor to his son. “As a catcher he learned physically and mentally on how to attack hitters with certain pitches in certain counts, and that’s something I never take for granted,” Kolarek told David Smith in an on-line interview earlier in his career. Father and son continue to analyze hitters and dissect each of Adam’s outings on the mound.
Kolarek should be comfortable getting the call to enter a game from the bullpen. Unlike many young prospects, he entered professional baseball as a relief specialist. Kolarek pitched out of the pen for the University of Maryland before signing to pitch for the Mets meaning the lefty has profited from a season-by-season refinement of the nuances that come with relief pitching.
And, finally the even-keeled Kolarek seems to have a temperament well suited for relief pitching success. The young Met pitching prospect understands the value of preparation, sets performance goals and works meticulously to realize them.
A low 90’s fastball that reaches 93 mph, moves away from left-handed batters, and has late sink is Kolarek’s go to pitch. Yet, Kolarek cites the improvements he’s made with his slider and change-up for his career best 2013 season. “The biggest difference has been my slider and change-up have made my fastball better, because I’m able to throw sliders and change-ups when I’m behind in the count. I’ve kind of been pitching backwards,” Adam told Craig Clary of the Baltimore Sun at the close of the 2013 season.
It’s just might be plausible that Kolarek’s backwards pitching consistency might help the Mets finally begin moving forward. The fact Kolarek retires right-handed batters as well or even better than lefties, makes the Met lefty and intriguing bullpen option, a guy who can do more than simply be asked to get a single out against a left-handed batter. Eastern League right handed batters hit less than .200 against Kolarek in 2013.
Even more compelling is that fact that the teams where Kolarek has pitched have all make the post season; in 2010 for the Brooklyn Cyclones of the NY/Penn League, in 2011 for the Savannah Sand Gnats of the Gulf Coast League, in 2012 for Port St. Lucie of the Florida State League and last summer for the B-Mets in the Eastern League. Kolarek’s record as a ‘lucky charm’ might be reason enough to keep him in the Met pen this summer.
Kolarek has experience as both a closer and setup man. The lefty led Port St. Lucie with 18 saves in 2012 before acting as a bridge to B-Met record setting closer Jeff Walters last year. Kolarek was a mid and post season St. Lucie Met All-Star and the Mets MLB.com Organization All-Star in 2012.
Met fans have grown up learning to cheer for the underdog. In some ways we see a bit of ourselves in the passion we direct at the Mets. There’s a place in most Met fans that can relate to the plight of the underdog. After watching Pedro Lopez summon Adam Kolarek from the bullpen and hand him the baseball many times last summer in Binghamton, I’ve grown to admire and trust this kid’s work on the mound. I’ll be cheering loud should Kolarek beat the odds and get Sandy Alderson’s call to join the Met roster in Flushing this year.
(Photo courtesy of Baltimore Sun)