Championships and Defense Jump-Started Kevin Kiermaier’s Career

Kevin Kiermaier

By: Michael Wottreng

Individual athletes are sometimes judged by the impact they have on their team. When comparing two individual’s for an award or a place in history, sometimes the tiebreaker will be the success of a player’s team. For Kevin Kiermaier, it was the success of his high school team that helped define his career.

As a senior at Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Kiermaier had scholarship offers from some small schools to play football, but he wanted to play baseball. The Biscuits outfielder did not go through the NCAA Clearinghouse, otherwise he would have signed with Purdue. A run through the Indiana state tournament during his senior season gave him another chance to catch the eye of college scouts.

“We made a run senior year of the baseball tournament and won the state championship,” Kiermaier said. “That’s where Parkland saw me and if we didn’t make it to the state finals, I don’t know where I would be.”

Parkland Junior College in Champaign, Ill. gave Kiermaier the chance to continue his baseball career.  In his first year with the Cobras, the Fort Wayne, Ind. native led Parkland to a NJCAA National Championship. After he completed his two seasons in Illinois, the two-time All-American would finish as the career leader in five offensive categories (triples, home runs, runs, walks and batting average).

Kiermaier faced a difficult decision during the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Purdue extended another scholarship offer for him to play in West Lafayette, but the Tampa Bay Rays gave the outfielder another option.

Without a run to the state tournament in high school, Kiermaier may not be playing baseball today.

Without a run to the state tournament at Bishop Luers High School, Kiermaier may not be playing baseball today.

“I was on the fence. I was told anywhere 8th through 15th round and I had a party that second day of the draft and had all my buddies over,” Kiermaier said. “I was the first round of the third day being in the 31st round.”

Kiermaier was able to negotiate with the Rays to get the money he was seeking and made the choice to bypass an opportunity to play in his home state.  It did not take long for the former All-American to develop a reputation of defensive excellence and blazing speed.

In 2012, Kiermaier was named the best defensive player in the Rays organization. Some big league scouts have said that the 23-year old is big league ready defensively and he understands that his glove will be what puts him on a 25-man roster.

“I know defense is something that can get me to the big leagues,” Kiermaier said. “For me, I feel like I am just as good as anyone in all of baseball. I take a lot of pride in it and I work on it each and every day. It’s something that has to be there for me to move up.”

Kiermaier has stockpiled awards in his career, seen here with the Princeton Rays "Most Popular" player award in 2010. Photo Courtesy: S.L. Craig

Kiermaier has stockpiled awards in his career, seen here with the Princeton Rays “Most Popular” player award in 2010. Photo Courtesy: S.L. Craig

Offensively, Kiermaier uses his legs to help his team win games. The Hoosier state native has at least six triples in each of his three years of professional baseball and has stolen an average of twenty bases a year.

“Anyone can hit doubles and for me triples are really honestly my favorite hit,” Kiermaier said. “I love running. Once you see that ball go in the gap, you get that adrenaline rush and just start flying.”

After a pair of hand injuries limited Kiermaier to just 63 games last season, the Indiana native did not set any numerical goals for 2013, but a goal to play in each game. The Montgomery leader in batting average is hitting .333 through Sunday with three doubles and three triples.

Kevin Kiermaier will never lead a team in home runs, but he does not worry about how he compares to the traditional big league prospect.

“Other people hit home runs and have their tools, but for me defense, my arm, and my speed are my bread and butter.”

Team success has helped Kiermaier pursue a path to the Major Leagues, but the 23-year old looks forward to his chance to be a key contributor on a World Champion using his glove and his speed.

AUDIO INTERVIEW

Michael Wottreng is a Broadcast and Multimedia Assistant for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow Michael on Twitter here: @MWottreng

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Categories: 2013 Southern League Feature

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