Minnesota native Kvasnicka knows hockey, but baseball is his game.
I knew two things about Mike Kvasnicka before I sat down to chat with him earlier this week in Lexington.
1. He looks a little like Shane Reynolds.
2. Jeff Bagwell butchered his name on MLB Network when announcing him as a draft pick in 2010.
(Poor Bags. It was his job to announce the Astros’ supplemental pick and he gets saddled with Mike Kvasnicka. The Commissioner fared no better when announcing the Astros’ second first-round pick, Mike Foltynewicz. I’m guessing by the time these two reach the big leagues, we’ll be a lot more forgiving when Milo and Millsie inevitably shorten their names to Folty and Kwasie.)
Anyhoo, Kvasnicka, whose name is pronounced kwaz-NICK-ah, is from the north. Way, way, way up north, in Minnesota. He, like most of his teammates, was a multi-sport athlete in high school. But, unlike his teammates, one of those sports was hockey. That comes as no surprise when taking into account the importance of hockey to most northern cities, especially the ones that are anywhere near the Canadian border.
Kvasnicka played football, baseball and hockey and was part of state championships in the latter two. There were glaring differences in the intensity of those games: few paid attention to the baseball tourneys, whereas the hockey games were played at the arena where the NHL Minnesota Wild plays, and drew tens of thousands of spectators.
“I could win five state baseball championships in a row, but it’s nothing compared to playing one game in a state hockey tournament,” he said. “There were 40,000 people watching 16, 17, 18-year-old kids. It was more fun than the baseball tournaments because no one was paying attention to those.”
Times have changed for the 6-foot-2, 200-pound 22-year-old. He was drafted to play baseball, and these days, people are most definitely paying attention. The Astros are in a massive transition, rebuilding for the future, and it’s likely they’ll be staying away from big-ticket free agents and relying heavily on the players they took in the last few drafts and the players they traded for at the deadline.
The team hopes Kvasnicka, a switch-hitter, will be part of that blueprint. Like the other farmhands we’ve written about, Kvasnicka changed positions when he joined the Astros’ organization. He was mainly an outfielder at the University of Minnesota with a little experience catching, too. The Astros drafted him as a third baseman, however, a position that was largely foreign to him.
In that respect, Kvasnicka is similar to teammates Delino DeShields Jr. and Telvin Nash in that they were profiled differently as professionals than what they were in high school and/or college.
“Very few players in the big leagues are at their amateur positions,” Asst. GM of scouting Bobby Heck said. “We just decided to transition earlier. Not all were pre-decided position changes, but as our talent base has grown, others have had to be flexible to get in the lineup.”
Third base is still a work in progress for Kvasnicka. He feels a lot more comfortable there this year than last, mainly because he’s been able to concentrate solely on what’s happening on the field, whereas last year, the added element of the stress level leading up to the draft created a bit of a distraction.
Nowadays, he’s focused on hitting and getting better at third base, a position that required him to improve his reaction time and get used to being so close to the action. These issues aren’t as relevant in the outfield.
“The majority of hitters are right-handed hitters and the majority of young hitters are dead pull hitters,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of extra work and early work. You’re basically starting from scratch. Reaction drills, slow rollers, swinging bunts. General working on backhand. I never had to use the backhand as an outfielder. That’s the best way to do it — just pound ground balls at you until you’re good at it.”
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