About 42 minutes north of the home of the Akron RubberDucks, a short trip on I-77, a great story for the Cleveland Indians in 2021 has been the emergence of a very young and exciting bullpen. That charge has been led by the likes of closer Emmanuel Clase and premier set up man James Karinchak, along with a mix of veterans and youngsters alike. While many might think this bullpen cannot get much better, there is more electric talent brewing in Akron.

Nick Mikolajchak, the #34 player on the IBI Prospect List caught the eyes of many with his first outing on May 6, as he struck out five in 2.2 innings of work. So far this season, in 7.1 IP, Mikolajchak has given up just three hits, walked two, and has yet to give up a run. He has 12 strikeouts on the season as well, giving him 15.2 K/9 and a K% just under 50%. The fiery right-hander picked up his first save of the season on May 18 as well, throwing 1.2 IP of scoreless ball, striking out two. 

Manager Rouglas Odor was very happy with the young righties’ first outing of the year and was impressed with what he saw over 2.2 innings of work. “Great outing; he came in with the bases loaded and one out and helped us out to get out of the jam,” Odor said, “Then he came back for two innings and he was electric. He did a good job keeping the ball down and throwing his off-speed pitches. Outstanding job, especially when he came in the bases loaded and one out.”

The numbers that Mikolojchak is putting up so far this year are eerily similar to another individual, whose name also ends with “chak”. In his second season in 2018, James Karinchak was putting up around 15 K/9 across three levels before vaulting to over 20 K/9 in 2019. Mikolajchak talked about how exciting it would be to be in the bullpen with the Indians set up man, with whom he was able to get to know this spring. 

“It would be exciting for sure,” Mikolajchak said when asked about possibly being paired with Karinchak in the back of the Indians bullpen. “I got to know him a lot better during Spring Training and he’s a great guy… he’s got great energy and I know that if I needed to talk to him or needed advice that I could go to him.”

Mikolajchak, whose fastball has already been clocked at 95 this season, was able to stay active throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that canceled the minor league season. It was reported by Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs that the Sam Houston State alum was throwing 95-97 at the end of Fall instructs in 2020, showing that the righty stayed ready throughout the year.

The long haired also said that he was able to get stronger this offseason to help that velocity continue to climb. 

“I tried to simulate a season as best as I could at home by throwing to live hitters every week,” he said, “[I] was just trying to keep my workload up, just in case there was a season, I’d be prepared to go out. And if there wasn’t a season, I knew there was a lot of worry about being at a workload deficiency from guys having a year off, so [I was] just trying to mimic a season as best as I could and be ready for this year.” 

Mikolajchak also mixes in a low 80’s slider as his primary secondary pitch, while also mixing in a curveball and changeup when needed. He carries a lot of confidence in his stuff on the mound and this was a big reason that he was able to make the jump from Mahoning Valley, the former short-season affiliate of the Indians, to Double-A ball in Akron. 

“You always [want to] be confident in your abilities on the mound,” the RubberDucks reliever said, “I know that the competition here [in Double-A] is going to be much better than short-season, and that’s what this whole past year has gone into; improving myself to be proactive to when I start moving up levels, and I will hopefully have a smoother transition.”

The Houston, Texas native also talked about his mentality on the mound, and how it has helped him find success in his short professional career. 

“I feel like all great pitchers have to have some kind of swag out there, whether it’s ‘you’re a killer’ or there are some guys that are kind quiet and are surgeons up there like a Bieber,” Mikolajchak said, “[I just] try to find a happy medium in my spots. I’ll get a little amped up with the adrenaline out there [on the field]. You always want to feel like you are more prepared than the hitter, so you have the confidence that you are going to get them out.”

Moving forward, Mikolajchak says he wants to get his stuff as consistent as possible throughout his outings. 

‘I think of over the course of the season it’s being consistent… its body maintenance and making sure that you are feeling your best and have your best stuff as much as possible,” the righty said, “You don’t want to see [inconsistency]. Just watching [James] Karinchak this year, you see that his velo is up to 97,98 almost every outing and now his bad outing is sitting 96. Just making sure that your stuff is as sharp as possible every outing.”

The Nick Mikolajchak Profile 

DOB: 11/21/1997 (23)
Draft: 2019 June Amateur Draft – Round 11, Pick: 23, Overall: 340 (Signing bonus $125,000)
Throws: R, Bats: R
Hometown: Spring, TX – Klein Collins High School
College: Sam Houston State University
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 205lbs

Career if not in baseball: “If I was 6’6”, basketball for sure.”
Favorite Music: “I listen to pretty much everything… I’m a Drake fan and Kayne [fan]… anything that makes you feel good and move.” 
Favorite Food: Pizza or “TexMex”
Favorite TV Show and Movie: Samford and Son & Stepbrothers
Favorite MLB Player: Jeff Bagwell 

Something fans might not know about Nick Mikolajchak: “Watching me pitch sometimes, I’ll get fired up, but off the field, as soon as the game is over, I’m just a normal guy. After the game [last week], I’m watching an NBA game, tweeting about that just chilling… Baseball is not who I am it’s what I do.”

There were several unknowns coming into the season about Mikolajchak that made it hard to truly get a read on his projectability as a member of the Cleveland pen. Through his first four games of 2021, it seems like Mikolajchak could be a part of the Cleveland bullpen sooner rather than later. With the velocity touching the mid 90’s this early in the season, it is likely that the righty will be adding more velocity as the season goes on. If the fastball speed continues to rise, this could help Mikolajchak turn from a reliable middle reliever to a premier setup man in his future. With a talented bullpen on the Tribe, he would likely not find a late-inning role early on, but it would not be surprising to see him working the late-inning games in Progressive Field in the coming years.  

Moving forward, this young reliever looks like he fits right in with the Cleveland pitching pipeline that continues to churn out great arms. With young organizational arms like Karinchak and Sandlin making headlines with the big-league club, it would not be shocking to see this youthful arm join them soon and create a thrilling bullpen for the foreseeable future.

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