The Rising Star of Lynchburg’s James Karinchak
David Freier | On 16, Jun 2018
You won’t find the name James Karinchak listed at Cleveland’s MLB pipeline page, or see it included in Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook coverage of the Cleveland Indians. It is likely he will join those ranks next year. Since the start of the season Karinchak has significantly improved his pitching and on May 3, he earned a promotion from Low-A Lake County to High-A Lynchburg.
The numbers between his first season as a professional and those of his second season are radically different. The 6’3” power right-hander out of Bryant University began his professional career with the short-season Mahoning Valley team after being a ninth round selection in 2017. In ten games, six as a starter, he posted a 5.79 ERA over 23 1/3 innings, with a 2-2 record.
These are not the numbers you want to post to move up into prospect status, but Karinchak bore down and made some adjustments on the mound.
“The guy gets after it, works very hard, and shows really good composure on the mound,” said Hillcats pitching coach Tony Arnold. “He’s got a feel for two pitches. His breaking ball is very good, and he’s commanding his fastball now.”
That sharp improvement in command has vaulted him to a 3-0 record with a 0.37 ERA in 24 1/3 innings across two levels this season.
In the professional ranks, the other major shift for Karinchak is a move from starting games, to closing games.
“When I got drafted I thought I was going to be a starter,” says Karinchak, “but last year, seeing that my stuff definitely plays better in later innings, I started working out of the bullpen.”
Coming out of Valley Central High School in Montgomery, New York, Karinchak grew up a Yankees fan. A three-year varsity letter winner, it was his junior year that got him an opportunity to head to Bryant University and join an excellent program. He posted a 7-0 record with a 0.71 ERA with 75 strikeouts over 49 2/3 innings. He also hit .376 and hit two home runs that season.
Even with that stellar performance, he did not end up on the draft radar.
“I wasn’t a hot prospect out of high school,” said Karinchak. “I had three offers to go to college. Luckily, I got to go to Bryant University.”
In his three seasons with the Bulldogs, Karinchak made 42 appearances on the mound, all but three of them as a starting pitcher. More impressive, he struck out 272 batters in 227 innings, for a 10.69 K/9 ratio.
His ability to strikeout batters has been a signature of his baseball career from high school through the pros. Even during his tough first season with Mahoning Valley, he struck out 31 hitters in 23 1/3 innings for a K/9 ratio just a hair under 12.
With his improved command, this number has jumped up to 15.9 for the current season. Since joining the Hillcats bullpen, he has appeared in eleven games, pitched 13 innings, saved five games, struck out 23 opposing batters, all while allowing only 15 batters to reach base through either hit (seven) or walk (eight).
“He has a bright future,” said manager Rougie Odor. “It’s exciting because he came up after Jake Paulson went up. It’s always nice to see new players coming from the lower level and having success here.”
In his Hillcats debut against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, he pitched 1 1/3 innings, allowing two hits, but getting all four outs by strikeout.
Coming to a team that was in the midst of losing streak, it can be tough to find a place. That was not a problem for Karinchak.
“I wasn’t surprised, but I was pretty excited,” he said about his promotion to the Hillcats. “They welcomed me with open arms. Everybody here is getting an opportunity to throw.”
Five of the opening day members of the Lynchburg pitching staff have already been promoted to AA Akron. Of those, only lefty Ben Krauth has returned to the Hillcats roster so far. With the departure of Kieran Lovegrove to the RubberDucks, Karinchak’s role in the bullpen became even more defined.
“Karinchak and [Dalbert] Siri are pitching for us at the back end of the bullpen, but every pitcher has pitched with the game on the line, or late in the game,” said coach Arnold.
With a number of accolades to his credit, Karinchak is making the transition to professional baseball and learning about all of the rigor that comes from playing the game at such a high level. Karinchak has learned to take the game pitch by pitch. By staying in the moment and improving his command, his mindset is focused on success each and every time he takes the mound. With this improved professional self-confidence, he gets the job done.
Summers in college, where he played summer collegiate baseball, helped begin this process of development. First, he played with the 2015 Newport Gulls of the New England Collegiate League, where he had five starts, a 4-1 record, and 27 strikeouts in 25 innings. The following summer, he moved to the Cape Cod League and the Chatham Anglers, but he only had the opportunity to pitch in two games.
“I always thought I had a chance competing with these big-name guys,” Karinchak said about his summer league experience. “It gave me some confidence going into the draft.”
His attitude mirrors his pitching, answering questions, like he pitches, direct and to the point.
“I have to execute less pitches than as a starter,” he said about relieving, “so I try to go to my strengths.”
Through 18 games this season, he has used his dominant fastball/curveball combination to be successful and has yet to allow a runner to score while wearing a Lynchburg uniform. The Hillcats season has been something of roller coaster ride, alternating winning streaks and losing streaks, and Karinchak went a week between appearances, pitching on May 30 before returning for three games over the last week.
Through it all, Karinchak’s progress has all been in an upward direction. He has allowed opposing hitters to generate only a .181 batting average against him for the season and just a .163 mark while with the Hillcats. In several outings, he has pitched more than a full inning and he carries an active streak of 23 1/3 scoreless innings into his next outing. He has not allowed a run this season since giving up one in his first appearance of the year while with Lake County.
With continued hard work building routines and establishing success in games, the career of James Karinchak as an upcoming Indians’ prospect is one to watch.