116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — He’s an outlier in today’s baseball world, a square peg in a round hole as the cliche goes.
Velocity isn’t John Stankiewicz’s thing.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher made his Midwest League debut Thursday night in his team’s 5-3 win over Quad Cities at Veterans Memorial Stadium. He retired 15 of the 16 batters he faced, the exception a softish comebacker that went as an infield single after glancing off of him and bouncing just off the mound.
The 23-year-old right-hander was sent to Cedar Rapids last week from low-Class A Fort Myers, where he was equally stingy at allowing anyone to reach base, let alone score. He gave up two earned runs in his four starts for the Mighty Mussels, prompting his promotion.
With the numbers he has posted, you’d think this would be a guy pumping heaters in the middle to upper-90s, plus a power slider. But that’s not close to the case here.
Stankiewicz’s fastball generally sat between 88 and 90 miles per hour Thursday night. He mystified Quad Cities hitters, however, by changing speeds and location expertly and throwing strikes with all of his pitches: a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup.
“It was a good first outing,” he said. “I had a good feel for all my pitches, and the defense played really well behind me. Really good game all around.”
The parent Minnesota Twins signed Stankiewicz as a non-drafted free agent in 2020 out of Fordham University in the Bronx. He had a decorative career with the Rams: the school’s career leader in earned run average (2.00), an All-American in 2019 and the Atlantic 10 Conference’s Pitcher of the Year.
Stankiewicz was throwing equally effective in 2020 when the start of the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the college baseball season. MLB’s draft that year was only five rounds, so there was virtually no chance he’d get taken, but a couple of teams were interested in signing him as a free agent.
Peter Larson, his pitching coach at Fordham, had been hired by Minnesota as a minor-league coach, which swayed him toward the Twins. Larson was scheduled to be the Kernels pitching coach in 2020, when their season was canceled, tutored Stankiewicz last season at Fort Myers and is with Double-A Wichita this season.
“I had pretty much made up my mind that I was going to go to pro ball, give it a shot,” Stankiewicz said. “I had another year, but at the time, we didn’t know how long the draft was going to be in 2021. It could have been five again, it could have been 20, somewhere between there. So I just decided to give pro ball a shot and see how it worked out.
“I had that connection (with Larson), and Minnesota seemed like a good fit. It’s been good working with everybody here, getting better and working on stuff each day.”
Stankiewicz is 5-0 with a 1.73 ERA in his short minor-league career, with a 0.88 WHIP in 13 appearances, nine starts. He has struck out 68 batters in 52 innings.
But he’s not naive about his lack of velocity making things more difficult as he progresses. He’d love to throw 100 miles per hour, but he is what he is and will continue to try and get outs with the things he does well.
“The velo’s not there like some guys,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “But he gets good carry on his fastball, and he can go with that curveball, slider and changeup. When you can go with four different pitches, keep the hitters off balance, and throw strikes, that gives you a chance.”
“I mean, velocity definitely helps as you move up,” Stankiewicz said. “But at the end of the day, getting outs is what’s important. That’s what baseball really is, and that’s what it’s going to continue to be down the road. So it’s all good.”
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