Ex-Streak Hunter chases the dream with LumberKings

MATTHEW WHEATON
Ex-Galesburg Silver Streaks player Kyle Hunter sits in the visiting bullpen at Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa, as a member of the Clinton LumberKings on Monday.

Kyle Hunter has officially started his first full season of professional baseball.

The former Galesburg High School and Galesburg American Legion player was selected by the Seattle Mariners (No. 933 overall) in last year’s Major League Baseball Amateur Draft out of Kansas State University. Hunter has appeared in three games so far in the Midwest League for the Clinton LumberKings, the Class A affiliate of the Mariners, located in Clinton, Iowa.

Hunter split time between the Pulaski Mariners, an advanced rookie team in Virginia that plays in the Appalachian League, and the Everett AquaSox, a Class A short-season team in Washington that plays in the Northwest League last season.

The LumberKings started their season on April 5 and Hunter, a left-handed pitcher who will mainly come out of the bullpen for the LumberKings, made his first appearance in a Clinton uniform on April 10 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa against the Kernels. He’s also faced the Beloit Snappers in Clinton on April 14 and on Tuesday, he pitched two innings of relief against the Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport.

Hunter (0-1) has a 6.75 ERA, allowing four runs on seven hits, striking out two and walking one in 5 1/3 innings so far this season.

“I wasn’t really nervous; just anxious,” said Hunter about his debut. “It’s been good so far. There are some good hitters in this league.”

Hunter, who wore No. 45 for the AquaSox and No. 74 for Pulaski, is back to wearing his college number, No. 32, but he’s doing different things than he was at Kansas State.

In his final season as a Wildcat, Kansas State played 61 games including the postseason and the LumberKings will play 139 games this season not including the postseason.

“It’s just a long season especially going from a starter in college to a reliever. It’s different,” Hunter said. “Throwing patterns are different in college. You play four maybe five games a week at the most in college. Here we’re playing every day.”

The way Hunter gets to his away games as a pro is also different then when he was an amateur.

The LumberKings take a charter bus to all their away games and if their opponent isn’t too far from Clinton, afterwards the team is on the bus for home.

“At K-State, half the trips we’d fly and half we’d drive. The Texas schools we’d always fly and that was nice,” Hunter said. “The commutes aren’t very fun especially after a loss. It’s pretty quiet on the way back from a loss. It would be nice sitting down and eating and then going to bed, but instead we have to take the bus back to Clinton.”

While the travel isn’t always appealing, Hunter enjoys being in the Midwest League.

“I like it,” he said. “It’s close to home and family and friends can see a lot of games. It’s always nice to look in the stands and see someone you know.”

Hunter’s parents, Les and Julie Hunter, have been to about half of Clinton’s games so far and are elated their son is back in the midwest pursing his dreams.

“I’m very proud of him. He has worked hard for a long time,” said Les Hunter, who has been a part of the coaching staff for the Knox College baseball team since 2004 and is the current pitching coach for the Prairie Fire. “Playing professional baseball was a goal of his. It’s nice having him close to home where we get to see him a lot.”

“We’re going to be able to go to a lot of games and a lot of family will go to his games,” Julie Hunter said. “He’s worked so hard at it, so I always thought playing professional baseball could be a possibility.”

Kyle is using a different combination of pitches in Clinton than he did in college, but his mental approach is the same.

“I was more of a fastball/curveball pitcher,” he said. “Now, I’m more of a fastball/changeup guy.

“Everything is getting there. I’m at a good spot right now and I just need to keep getting better,” Kyle added. “My out pitch is mostly my changeup. I love throwing a fastball inside to a hitter.

“If you have a good or bad outing you have to flush it; just have a short memory. Stay on an even plane and keep going.”

Andrew Lorraine, a former left-handed pitcher who had a six-year major league career and served as the pitching coach for the AquaSox the past two seasons and is now in Clinton as the LumberKings’ pitching coach, likes Kyle’s versatility and believes he is going to have a good year.

“He’s great,” Lorraine said. “He is such a versatile and resilient kid. He’s excelling and is going to have a great year for us.

“He came out last year and threw really well,” he added. “He has great command of his pitches. He is ahead of the game in a lot of ways especially as far as using all of his pitches. I really think we are similar in a lot of ways, but he has a better changeup than I did.”

Nick Martini, a former Kansas State teammate who is now a member of the River Bandits, faced Kyle on Tuesday and sees improvement.

“He is just a competitive guy and if he wasn’t he wouldn’t be here,” Martini said. “He has always had good stuff and he is improving.”