Moving and Advancing
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - On the Fourth of July, when manager Bobby Magallanes of the Double-A Birmingham Barons delivered the news to former WVU shortstop Tyler Kuhn that he was being called up to the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, Kuhn was lucky he was not still sleeping.
The night before, Kuhn and the Barons played in a 17-inning marathon in Jacksonville, Fla., and immediately following the game the team hopped on the bus and drove the nine hours back to Birmingham, Ala., arriving at 9 a.m. That night, Kuhn was supposed to be leading off and playing shortstop until Magallanes delivered the news.
“We were playing that night, so I got to the field and the manager said he had good news and bad news,” Kuhn recalled. “The bad news is you’re not in the lineup tonight and the good news is you’re going to Charlotte.”
Kuhn did not play that night, but sat in the dugout in a game that lasted until midnight. He then drove to his apartment where his wife, former WVU gymnast Rachel Hardin, had already packed up the majority of their belongings.
The Louisville, Ky., native then woke up at 6 a.m. on Tuesday and made the six and half hour drive to Charlotte, where he was in the lineup that night batting second and playing third base.
“Any time you get a promotion in any job it’s a good thing, especially getting a promotion from Double-A to Triple-A,” Kuhn said. “That’s pretty good to have just because the Triple-A level is one step away, and you have a lot of big leaguers playing on both our team and the visiting teams.”
In his first game with the Knights, Kuhn faced Norfolk’s Brian Matusz, who had just been sent down to the minors by Baltimore. The next night did not get any easier as the Knights faced Julio Teheran of the Gwinnett Braves, the top player in Atlanta’s organization and someone who has played in the majors this season.
“The noticeable difference isn’t as much as everyone thinks, the pitchers have a little better feel for both sides of the plate,” Kuhn said. “Stuff wise, like velocities and depths on breaking pitches, it’s not a huge difference.”
For Kuhn, the call up is something he was hoping for, but not banking on. The left-handed hitting infielder was leading all of Double-A in batting average (.366); he also had 44 runs, 106 hits, 24 doubles, six triples, one home run and 46 RBIs on the way to being named a Southern League All-Star.
“I definitely was hoping something like this would happen, but I tried not to think about it too much just because when you start thinking about it, you lose focus on what you’re doing at hand,” Kuhn said. “Our team at Double-A was a great team and we were winning a lot of games and sometimes organizations like to keep teams together and don’t move guys up a lot in the season. I tried to take it in like a pleasant surprise.”
Kuhn credits his hitting success and the success of other former WVU players in the minors to the hitting approach at WVU, led by head coach Greg Van Zant and assistant coach Pat Sherald.
“The time we put in and the coaches letting you figure out your own swing and then tinkering with it helped me,” Kuhn said. “I haven’t changed my swing since playing at WVU, and I doubt the other guys have either. We are all diamonds in the rough and going to West Virginia, a lot of the time you’re not a Baseball America Top 100, you have the force success on the scouts and organizations.
“The time, effort and strength we built up in our swings have physically allowed us to handle playing at higher levels,” he added. “The season is so long in pro ball, that movement of swinging is very explosive and playing for West Virginia allowed us to know what to do at the next level.”
Players like Kuhn, former WVU catcher David Carpenter and infielder Vince Belnome have had to prove themselves time and again to make their way up the ranks of professional baseball. Kuhn believes the perseverance is something everyone learns while playing at WVU.
“If you’re not a big-time prospect, it is tough to become a guy in the organization that they think is going to be a future big leaguer,” Kuhn explained. “You have to force that on them and for me it was being able to play defense at every position. If you swing the bat, they want to get your bat in the lineup and the only way you can prove yourself in the minors is if you play every day. If you don’t play every day, it’s hard to put up stats and accumulate statistical numbers.”
Kuhn also explained how some players are fortunate enough to have the big league teams have a vested interest in them.
“A guy like Jedd (Gyorko), he was a second-rounder, so he’s a guy the Padres are invested in,” Kuhn said. “He’s doing awesome by the way, so for a guy like him, they’re going to force him out on the field. I had to force the organization to keep moving me up.”
Kuhn, now 24, has seen his fifth promotion in four years in the organization and represents one more rung on the ladder for his career timetable.
“If I don’t feel like I’m getting any better and starting to fall behind, I’ll start to think about the drag, but right now I’m one of the youngest on the team,” Kuhn said. “I’m where I want to be right now and you become numb to the grind.”
As for Birmingham, it will always be a special place to Kuhn, spending almost two seasons with the squad where he not only developed his hitting, but also his play as an infielder.
“Birmingham was awesome, I have no complaints except for the humidity,” Kuhn laughed. “I was very comfortable there, the coaching staff was great, the team was great, we won the first half division title and we were in first place when I left.
“It was a great place to learn and that helped me defensively more than anything. Since I’ve been in pro ball, my reputation defensively has been below-average. Playing at Birmingham for a couple of years allowed me to improve and play all different positions.”
The experience also helped Kuhn grow as an individual after being in Birmingham when a mile-wide tornado ripped through the northern part of the city on April 27.
When he saw the projected route, Kuhn grabbed Rachel and drove to a friend’s house where they sat in the basement as the tornado went through.
“There was guy on our team where the tornado partially destroyed the house he was living in,” Kuhn said. “He woke up from a nap 15 minutes before it came through, jumped in his car and drove off and came back and half of his house was destroyed. Another guy had two brothers who were in Tuscaloosa.”
After the devastation that left Birmingham in pieces, Kuhn and his teammates went to the tornado site where they got a first-hand view and helped to clean up.
“It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Kuhn said. “Every house was gone and the sad part is there are very few people cleaning up because everything is gone, so I don’t even know where people would start. We couldn’t do nearly as much as needed.”
As for his career, life and baseball always seem to coincide, and Kuhn hopes that soon his path will eventually lead him to the Chicago where he will be playing for the top affiliate - the Chicago White Sox.
Tyler Kuhn, West Virginia Mountaineers, WVU, Charlotte Knights, Chicago White Sox
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