It’s refreshing to talk to someone who’s living their dream, as Tom Koehler is. Pitching in the minor leagues, he’s not exactly where he wants to be yet, but he’s ahead of schedule.
“When I first got drafted I was hoping to be where I am right now by the end of this year, the start of next year,” Koehler said by phone after his start last Sunday. “So I’m a little ahead of where I wanted to be, realistically. But right now, I’m just trying to get better each time I go out and see what happens. From here you never know really.”
Koehler is pitching for the Jacksonville Suns, the Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins. Through eight starts this season, he is 4-0 with a 4.01 ERA. He’s struck out 37 batters in 42 2/3 innings.
Koehler was a dominant force at New Rochelle High School in New York, earning All-State honors after a stellar senior season. He attended Stony Brook University, where he was a two-time All-America East second team selection and led the conference in strikeouts his senior year. In June 2008, the Marlins selected him in the 18th round of the First-Year Player Draft.
His professional career started in Jamestown, NY in Single-A short season. Last year he started in Greensboro, NC before moving up to Advanced-A ball with the Jupiter Hammerheads in August.
Koehler began this year in Jacksonville in the Southern League, which includes teams in places like Birmingham and Mobile, AL, and Jackson, TN, making for some long bus rides. “It’s tough when you play a game that ends at 11 and then you’ve got to travel eight hours on the bus and then play the next night at seven,” Koehler said. Still, he says most of the stadiums are fairly modern and get good-sized crowds.
Jacksonville, which won the league last year, is in first place with a 26-14 record. Koehler said his focus is on winning more so than it’s been in his previous minor league destinations. “There are a handful of guys (I’m playing with now) who are still prospects trying to get to the big leagues,” he said. “But on the other side, there are guys who know their days are numbered and are basically just playing to win each game they play. You want to work on stuff, but it’s about producing the wins at this point.”
One thing Koehler is working on is a cut fastball, a pitch which he says has helped him against lefties (they are only batting .222 against him). “I actually get myself in trouble sometimes because I try to throw it too much. It’s like a new toy,” Koehler admitted.
At 23 years old, Koehler is progressing nicely through the Marlins’ system, with his eyes on one day making the big league club. For now, though, he’s thinking about his next start — and how fortunate he is to be playing professional baseball. “Even if you have a bad day, there are a million people who would like to be in your position. If you take it that way, and try to use every opportunity, that’s the best way to go about it.”