Kernels' Schugel still learning the art of pitching

CEDAR RAPIDS — The next time you feel like criticizing A.J. Schugel for giving up a couple of runs or “only” throwing five innings in one of his starts, consider where he has come from.

It’s not a pitcher’s mound.

“Kind of a funny story,” the Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher said after his team’s 7-1 loss Sunday afternoon to Peoria at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “I got talked into throwing a bullpen at a showcase my sophomore year of college. A lot of people were there and said I’d probably have more of an upside doing this.”

Schugel, 22, went to Texas Tech as a third baseman and played almost strictly infield for two years after transferring to Central Arizona Junior College. He threw three innings as a freshman, not at all as a sophomore, not at all in high school in Colorado.

But the Los Angeles Angels drafted him last year in the 25th round, and here he is already in the Midwest League. Quite a remarkable jump for a kid learning the pitching craft as a pro.

“(Intimidating) is one way to look at it, I guess,” Schugel said. “To develop as a pitcher at the professional level is what I think is a positive, though. Whereas, going to college, that’s a completely different game. That’s why me and my family decided I should sign.”

That family may have been a little biased since Schugel’s father, Jeff, is a major league scout for the Angels. Jeff Schugel played minor league baseball in the Minnesota Twins system and has been a pro scout for 20 years.

“I get asked that question all the time,” A.J. Schugel said. “Yeah, that’s another reason we decided to sign.”

The Angels have got to be happy he did.

Schugel threw five shutout innings in his fifth start, leaving with a 1-0 lead that evaporated in a five-run Peoria sixth against reliever Seth Fowler.

Schugel is being eased into the starting rotation in place of Justin LaTempa, being limited to five innings right now. His earned run average of 2.45 is outstanding.

“I see an athlete on the mound with quality makeup,” Kernels Manager Brent Del Chiaro said. “He’s got a mid-90s fastball, flashing a 94 or a 95 every once in awhile. He’s got a fastball with sink, has a major league change up.

“He’s got to be a little more consistent with his slider. But the reason he’s having success is he can throw three pitches for strikes. You do that, at this level, especially, you’re going to have a lot of success.”

The Kernels dropped to 6-11 in the MWL’s second half, tied with Burlington for last in the Western Division. The teams complete their three-game series today at noon.

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