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By Craig Sullivan
Unlimited Sports 

Former Husker looks to beat the odds in pro baseball

 


Nebraska News Service

As Pat Mooney walked around the dugout, he overheard Kyle Kubat.

“Never have and never will,” Kubat muttered.

Kubat was pitching in the Nebraska Class A American Division State Legion baseball championship against Papillion La Vista South. Creighton Prep won the game 10-1 and Kubat did not disappoint. He pitched eight innings, struck out 12 and added a home run to boot.

After the game, Creighton Prep head baseball coach Pat Mooney asked Kubat what his pregame phrase meant.

“He told me this team has never beat me and never will beat me,” Mooney said.

That competitive spirit has aided Kubat on the mound. He is in his sixth season in the Chicago White Sox’s minor league system and is pushing to make the majors. Kubat’s mentality has always been to pitch aggressively.

“As I get onto the mound, I have a mindset of attacking and staying on the gas pedal,” Kubat said.

Mooney noted Kubat had a strong ability to throw his fastball to both sides of the plate at Prep. He pitched from the left side, the tendency was just to run the ball away from hitters. He was able to dot hitters up inside as well, which made him that much more difficult to hit.

As he got older, his pitches progressed as well. Kubat holds a four-pitch arsenal that includes a fastball, changeup, curveball and a slider/cutter mix.

The biggest pitch for Kubat is the change-up. It’s a pitch he really discovered and honed in his senior year at Creighton Prep. He has termed it “a power change-up,” a reference to the common phrase of a high-velocity fastball being a power fastball.

“Having a quality change-up as a pitcher can really open up my other pitches,” Kubat said. “Since I don’t throw all that hard, having a good change-up allows my fastball to play as if it’s faster as well as keeping hitters off balance.”

The change-up and the ability to throw his repertoire in any count earned him a scholarship at the University of Nebraska.

Once he arrived on campus, he thrived.

“The thing I loved about Kyle is he just lights up a room with the energy he brings and his intensity,” former Nebraska head baseball coach Darin Erstad said. “There are no days off for him and I feed off those types of people.”

In his first season, Kubat was named a Freshman All-American by “Collegiate Baseball.” His season ended with a 5-1 record and 2.63 ERA in 15 appearances.

In his sophomore season, he finished with a record of 5-0 with 1.81 ERA over eight games.

Erstad noted that Kubat came to Nebraska with a good changeup and fastball. Those two combined with his makeup allowed for his early success.

“I mean, Kyle was a hard worker,” Erstad said. “He did a good job controlling the running game as a left-handed pitcher and overall, he was just one heck of a competitor.”

The only thing that could derail Kubat’s success were injuries. In the middle of his sophomore season, he began to have shoulder pain and was shut down for large periods of time.

“Injuries are just part of being a pitcher, throwing a baseball is not a natural thing,” Erstad said. “The stuff he went through, it’s a credit to him and his mental toughness to fight through all of it.”

He came back his junior year but was more erratic. Kubat had a 4.55 ERA, and finished with a record of 5-2. That year Nebraska made it back to an NCAA regional for the first time in six years.

Getting over the hump and making the postseason for the first time in the Erstad era was one of Kubat’s most memorable moments at Nebraska.

“It was ultimately the first step we had to get through and they can take credit for being the group that did that,” Erstad said. “Kyle was obviously a big part of that.”

By his senior season, Kubat regained more of his freshman form with a sub-3 ERA in 15 starts. Even with that improvement, he was not drafted.

After going undrafted, the Kansas City Royals still were interested in having Kubat in the organization. They signed him as a minor league free agent.

Kubat said, “Gratefully, the Royals called and gave me an opportunity to pitch in rookie ball.”

The Royals shifted Kubat away from starting which allowed him to pitch consistently in shorter spurts. He dominated the Arizona league after signing to the tune of a sub-1 ERA in 12 relief appearances. The next year, Kubat made it through two more levels of the minors and ended the year in high single-A.

After that performance, the Chicago White Sox saw something they liked and made a move to acquire Kubat from their division rivals.

“It was an emotional roller coaster when I got traded and I was sad mainly because I was leaving a good group of guys that I would potentially never see again,” Kubat said.

At age 24, Kubat pitched in Low-A Kannapolis and dominated hitters at that level. He was named a 2017 Low-A All Star with a 1.12 ERA in 21 appearances, almost all in relief.

By the end of the year, Kubat had worked his way from low-A all the way up to AA, squarely making people take notice. The affiliate Kubat has spent the most service time with has been the high-A Winston Salem Dash, which is located in North Carolina.

“He has always exceeded expectations in my mind,” former Dash play-by-play announcer Joe Weil said.

Kubat uses a specific strategy on the mound. For his pitch mix, he said he knows it is important to get ahead in the count and make sure he starts with a first-pitch strike.

“Being able to play chess and notice the hitter’s swings and how they take pitches is important in being able to sequence pitches to get the hitter out,” Kubat said.

During the 2018 season, Kubat spent most of his year at high-A Winston Salem and started as a reliever until midseason when he was transitioned to a starter.

In his first start of the year against the Carolina Mudcats, Kubat struck out the side in the first inning, then did the same in the second.

“He’s able to hit his spots, that’s the biggest thing about Kyle, he’s somebody from a control standpoint as good as anyone I saw,” Weil said.

Kubat continued to make people take notice in 2019 after he soared up a few levels. Four dominant starts in Winston Salem led to a promotion to AA Birmingham where he started eight games. In those starts with the Barons, he finished 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA. After those combined 12 strong starts, Kubat ended the year with another promotion to AAA Charlotte.

His major league momentum had to be put on hold in 2020 the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of the minor league baseball. However, in 2021, Kubat spent the majority of the year in Charlotte after he crushed the AA level again.

This year, Kubat re-signed with the White Sox organization and is back at spring training trying to break through. He is in his sixth year as a part of the organization, an anomaly among undrafted players.

“The White Sox have always been good to me since day one and I really enjoy this organization,” Kubat said. “There have been ups and downs but I have enjoyed everywhere I’ve played”

After starting out undrafted, the odds were never in his favor to last this long in the minor leagues. Only about 10% of minor leaguers ever make it to the big leagues.

In that 10%, there are groups that are disproportionately represented. More than 60% of first-round picks eventually make it to the big leagues and 49% of second-round picks reach the highest level according to Bleacher Report’s Mike Rosenbaum.

The most unlikely group to make it through the minor leagues are undrafted free agents.

Kubat is just one level away from the majors and goes into spring training this year with his eye on making a strong impression.

"I love playing and knowing I have a support system back home helps me continue to get better every day.”

He has proven the doubters wrong at every level so far and he is in prime position to defy the odds once more.

 

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