With Evan Kruczynski’s illustrious college career at an end, the co-captain for the East Carolina baseball team takes a step in a new direction towards the major leagues.
On the second day, in the ninth round of the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft, ECU’s “Friday night starter”, Kruczynski, was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals.
“It was a surprise because I did not get the call from the Cardinals until the morning of that day,” Kruczynski said. “I talked to a bunch of other candidates but the Cardinals called me that morning... told me to look out for my name and a phone call and it all happened that fast.”
The former All-American ECU pitcher is coming off two of his best seasons after suffering an injury during his senior year. He finished his ECU career with a 20-8 record, and now he must prepare for playing at the next level.
“It’s a step along a dream come true, making it to the major league.” Kruczynski said. “It is one step closer and I appreciate my coach for giving me this opportunity to make this jump through the minor leagues on my way up to the big league.”
As the first ECU player selected in this year’s MLB draft, many expectations will be placed on him to prove his worth with the Cardinals’ organization. The pitcher noted it has not hit him yet that he is now a part of a major league team, but says he knows it is his duty to perform at a high level every game.
“I’m going to go to work every day knowing it’s a job and that I have to make the right decisions on and off the field and represent the team well and also represent the Cardinals organization well,” Kruczynski said. “After a bad first day like I had at ECU, I was determined to get better and if I have days like that with this organization I will do the same thing here. I think they are getting a guy who is determined and who wants to move his way up the ranks.”
Kruczynski, who had many turning points during his career at ECU, became resilient after a rough first season with the Pirates.
“After freshman year, I felt really humbled because I struggled very bad and I was determined to get better just because (pitching coach Dan) Roszel and (head coach Cliff) Godwin came in and made me get better,” Kruczynski said. “I had to make a comeback my sophomore year and that eventually led to the junior season that I had, and a even better season that I would have had this year, if it wasn’t for the broken leg. But I couldn’t have asked for a better career.”
Through the years, Kruczynski has learned many lessons in becoming a better player for his team. With ECU’s program being so demanding, he said it gave him the mental toughness to excel for the Pirates.
“It wasn’t about baseball, it was about making you a better person on and off the field and that’s part of being mentally tough,” Kruczynski said. “This world will knock you down at some point, so I feel ECU has helped prepare me for those situations. So when something bad happens along the way, I (will) be prepared for it and come back even stronger.”
Chemistry will play a major role in how well the rookie adjusts to playing in the minor leagues. Over the years as a Pirate, starting catcher Travis Watkins has gotten to know Kruczynski on and off the field. The relationship between the two as teammates may end but Watkins believes his friend is ready to play for the Cardinals.
“I think Kruz is more prepared than anyone in the country to go out there and perform. He loves the game and has a passion for the game,” Watkins said. “Anytime you have a passion for something you have a better chance of succeeding. The guy loves the game and he’s gonna go out there and put his best foot forward and compete everyday.”
The relationship between Watkins and Kruczynski grew stronger as they adjusted to each other's style of playing. Kruczynski said Watkins was like another coach on the field and because of their chemistry, they worked well together.
“It’s always important to have a pitcher and catcher chemistry, but like I said it’s a business now so it is not going to be as easy to make that chemistry with anyone,” Kruczynski said. “Everyone is fighting for a job, but I will do my best to try to find that same chemistry that me and Travis had so that I can be successful at this level.”
Watkins provided Kruczynski some advice as the pitcher starts to make the transition to the major leagues.
“Don’t change a thing. I mean, what he has done has got him to be an All-American, it got him to be a three time Friday night starter, and not many people in the country have done that,” Watkins said. “Just because he’s playing pro ball doesn’t mean he needs to change a thing. He should keep that same work ethic that he had when he was at ECU, go out there and put his best foot forward and just compete every single day and I know he’ll do great.”