Two Mets Relief Prospects On The Rise: Chase Huchingson and Adam Kolarek

With Binghamton closer Jeff Walters becoming an almost impenetrable ninth inning wall at NYSEG Stadium this summer, it would be easy to overlook the overall 2013 brilliance of the B-Met bullpen. That’s particularly the case with two unsung left-handers who have turned out stellar performances all summer from the Binghamton pen.

Like two peas in a pod, Adam Kolarek and Chase Huchingson have been bedrock solid out of the bullpen for Binghamton this year. The left-handed pitching specialists have several similarities; both tall and imposing on the hill, both with multiple pitch weaponry anchored by low 90’s fastballs, and both almost automatic outs, especially against lefthanded batters.

LHP Adam Kolarek (Photo by Gordon Donovan)

Although Kolarek and Huchingson share many similarities on the pitching hill, they took very different paths to arrive in Binghamton. The 6’ 3,” 215-pound Kolarek’s baseball resume models consistency. The B-Met lefty has an advantage over many minor league pitchers who work out of the pen in that he pitched in relief at Maryland in college before signing to play professionally. Many minor league pitchers are converted starters meaning Kolarek has profited from a season-by-season refinement of the nuances the come with relief pitching.

Kolarek, too, has benefited from an at home pitching mentor in his Dad, Frank, who paved a patch for his son playing ball at Maryland and spending several seasons catching in the Oakland A’s minor league system. Kolarek soaked up the knowledge and preparation his Dad could offer on his baseball journey. “As a catcher he learned how pitcher’s prepare physically and mentally and 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 post earlier in his career.

An even-keeled guy with an unchanging temperament, Kolarek doggedly pursues pitching goals counting on meticulous preparation and consistency in approach to attain success. A low 90’s fastball that is quick out of his hand, moves away from left-handed batters and has some late sink, is Kolarek’s go-to pitch. The lefty relief specialist has used a solid change-up since college, but saw his outputs soar when he added a slider to his repertoire since pitching professionally. Improved command of the slider allows Kolarek to use the pitch to quickly get ahead of batters or, when ahead in the count, to lure batters of offer at sliders placed intentionally off the plate or in the dirt.

Kolarek, used primarily as a set-up man as a B-Met, is 3-3 out of the bullpen with a 1.96 ERA, a 9.05 strikeout rate per 9 innings and a very respectable 1.12 WHIP. Kolarek has fanned 9.71 batters per nine innings over 224.1 innings of his minor league career.

Compared to Kolarek Chase Huchingson’s baseball ride followed the up-and-down trajectory of a whitewater rapid ride. For starters, Huchingson chose the pitching route later on his baseball journey converting from the outfield to the hill. Raised in the college town of Fayetteville, Arkansas, Huchinson work high school play caught the eye of coaches from the University of Arkansas who offered him an early scholarship. But, Huchingson opted to consider all options, eventually signing with the fabled college baseball factory at Arizona State.

Arizona State changed pitching coaches after the 6’5” lefty had signed and the new coach, after watching Huchingson pitch in a summer league wasn’t impressed. Arizona State couldn’t pull back the scholarship offer but informed the young left-hander they would be reducing the amount of his scholarship after the first semester. That disappointment and prohibitive out-of-state tuition costs saw Huchingson take his baseball game the JUCO route to the University of Arkansas Fort Smith.

LHP Chase Huchingson (Photo by Gordon Donovan)

After a lights out first season where he nearly led the conference in ERA at Arkansas Fort Smith, Huchingson was drafted in the 23rd round by the Astros but could never come together with the National League team on terms of a contract. Things spiraled in the opposite direction when Huchingson subsequently struggled at Arkansas Fort Smith and was not named again in the draft.

Pitching for a summer league team out of McKinney, Dallas in the Texas Collegiate League, a wood bat league, saved Huchingson’s career. The tall lefty didn’t allow an earned run all summer long and caught the eye of a Met scout attending games to check up on another pitcher the Mets had signed who threw for McKinney. Huchingson agreed to sign with the Mets after he finished his senior year of college.

Huchingson has changed roles from relief pitcher to starting pitcher early in his professional career. After a promising year pitching as a sometime starter and other time relief pitcher in Savannah, Huchingson was used almost exclusively in the starting rotation in 2012 in St. Lucie.

Perhaps, Huchingson’s brilliant work out of the pen this year in Binghamton has finally landed a steady baseball role. A 3-2 win/loss record with a shining 1.71 ERA and just over one strikeout per inning in 65 innings of work should make Huchingson a contender for a future spot in the Met bullpen.

Towering and lanky with a funky like pitching delivery, Huchingson is fun to watch. Huchingson hides the ball well in his delivery making it tough to pick up, especially for left-handed batters. His fastball has movement and sink and generally arrives at between 88-91 mph. A good mix of pitches includes a solid change-up and emerging breaking ball. A student of the game, Huchinson is a competitive guy who relishes every opportunity to get the ball.

Although the paths they took to Binghamton may have differed, in the late innings Kolarek and Huchingson bring a similar approach to the NYSEG Stadium mound. Both lefties pitch to their strength and aggressively attack batters. Both use their fastball as the foundation of their battle plan, working to get ahead in the count so they can best employ their other pitching options. And both left-handers, provide B-Met skipper Pedro Lopez with two, big, similar left-hand options from the bullpen, a huge consideration in Binghamton’s 2013 Championship baseball run.

About John Bernhardt 162 Articles
MMO Minor League Analyst John Bernhardt is a retired public school teacher and administrator, who still coaches high school baseball. Growing up in a Yankees household, Bernhardt was an ardent Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra fan. When the Yankees fired Yogi in his first season as the Bomber manager, curiosity turned to passion when the Mets signed Berra as a player/coach and he has pulled for the Mets ever since. In retirement, John writes the sports for a local weekly, The Catskill Mountain News and hosts Tip-Off, a Friday morning sports hour, from 8:00-9:00 on WIOX, 91.3 F.M.