Athletics' Ian Krol Feeling At Home
is still like a kid in some ways. The 19-year-old still likes to mess around off the field. He can hear his father in the stands at his games. But when the Athletics lefthander gets on the mound for low Class A Kane County, he looks like anything but a teenager.
"Just the way he carries himself on the field, it's phenomenal," Kane County pitching coach Jimmy Escalante said. "I wish some of the older guys would take some of this warrior mentality he takes out there."
The Cougars' home park in Geneva, Ill., a Chicago suburb, is just about 30 minutes away from Krol's hometown of Naperville. He's thus had his share of family and friends on hand for his home starts. But Krol has come a long way from where he was when he pitched in front them in the past.
Krol was kicked off his high school team last year for a violation of the school's athletic code of conduct. He still showed enough stuff while pitching in a scout league on the weekends to command a $925,000 bonus as a seventh-round pick, becoming the first high school pitcher to sign with the Athletics since 2006.
"I think he wants to prove something to everyone from the area," Escalante said.
He's been proving plenty so far. Since giving up six earned runs over 5 2/3 innings in his first two outings, he's given up just five more in 45 1/3 innings. His record is only 2-2, due largely to a lack of offensive support, but Krol ranks eighth in the Midwest League with a 1.94 ERA through 51 innings. He's permitted just 36 hits and no home runs while putting up a 43-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
In his latest start Wednesday night, Krol gave up his first earned run in 18 innings when Wisconsin pushed one across in the fifth inning. He finished the night having given up only the one run on four hits in six innings, with six strikeouts and no walks—the second start in row he hasn't issued a free pass.
Krol came to the A's not with overpowering velocity, but with an outstanding feel for his craft for his age and a feisty competitive streak. His fastball velocity dipped to 86-88 mph last spring, but he's been back up into the 88-91 range this year, while making greater use of his two-seamer that's usually at 89 mph.
Krol lives in the bottom half of the strike zone. In addition to not having given up any home runs all year, he's produced a 1.42 groundout-to-flyout ratio. He's also been just as dominant against righthanded hitters (.197 average) as lefties (.208).
"He really tries to force these guys to create contact within three or less pitches," Escalante said. "Everything he's throwing just starts right off at the knees. His changeup has come a long way. He's able to use that now to get guys off of his fastball and create weak contact."
The changeup has become one of Krol's go-to pitches against righthanders. Escalante said he had to force Krol to throw the change earlier in the season but that he bought into it once he started seeing the results he could get with it. His confidence in the pitch has grown ever since.
"He'll work back and forth. He really attacks the hitters inside early in the game," Escalante said. "Once he's established the inside fastball, he's got the whole outside part of the plate to work with, especially with that two-seamer and changeup he's been putting on the same lane. He's real confident when he's out there."
Emphasizing changeups hasn't been the only adjustment Escalante has helped Krol make. They've tightened up Krol's curveball so it isn't as slurvy as before and made it so it comes out of his hand at the same angle as his fastball. They've also toned down his high leg kick to give him a smoother delivery.
"(Krol's delivery) is a little bit more effortless now," Escalante said. "He seemed to yank his front side out pretty quick and everything would go flying open. He's come a long way just from spring training. He's a hard-working kid. He's out there working on this stuff every day.
"It's a low to high effort delivery. Real smooth coming down the mound, and then once he lands, that arm really takes off on him."
Escalante also praised Krol's work habits, saying the teenage lefty has become a real student of the game. Krol watches as much video as he can between starts and makes sure he doesn't fall into a routine with hitters. That level of maturity is an encouraging sign for the organization, which wanted to see Krol demonstrate that his off the field issues were in the past.
Krol could well turn out to be a seventh-round steal. But for now, he must settle for dominating the Midwest League, though a little home cooking probably doesn't hurt.