'Time to move on': Amherst's Kevin Ziomek signs with Detroit Tigers
Kevin Ziomek, of Amherst, signed with the Detroit Tigers Friday afternnoon in Lakeland, Fla. Purchase photo reprints »
Vanderbilt's Kevin Ziomek pitches in the first inning of a Southeastern Conference tournament college baseball game against South Carolina at the Hoover Met in Hoover, Ala., Thursday, May 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) Purchase photo reprints »
With the Boston Red Sox in Detroit starting Thursday for a four-game series against the Tigers, Kevin Ziomek was in an interesting position.
Ziomek, an Amherst native who was a Red Sox fan growing up, was in the process of turning professional — with the Tigers no less — when Jhonny Peralta delivered Thursday night’s 4-3 win for Detroit with a two-run walk-off homer.
Ziomek left New England on Thursday for the Tigers’ minor league complex in Lakeland, Fla. On Friday afternoon, after passing his physical, Ziomek signed and officially became a Detroit Tiger.
“It was pretty cool,” said Ziomek about watching Thursday’s game. “I’ll always have some good memories at Fenway but hoping I can make my own at Comerica” Park in Detroit.
The left-hander from Vanderbilt was selected in the second round with the 58th overall pick on the First-Year Player Draft earlier this month. When the Commodores’ season ended in the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals, Ziomek returned home for a break. During that time he decided to forgo his final year of eligibility at Vanderbilt and sign a six-year rookie contract with the Tigers.
“I don’t know if there was a specific day I made a decision,” Ziomek said. “I kind of just knew after where I was drafted and after the type of year that I had.
“It was kind of a family decision I guess,” he added. “I talked it over with my parents but I kind of knew deep down this was the time. I proved what I could prove at Vanderbilt and I think it was time to move on with my career.”
Ziomek, 21, received a signing bonus of $956,600. That figure comes from Major League Baseball’s slotting system.
“They were really good about it,” Ziomek said about negotiations. “There were no problems on their end and there was no fight on our end. It was nice and clean and no issues which was great.”
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Ziomek said he was a little nervous before he signed on the dotted line. “I was more excited,” he said. “I had a couple butterflies beforehand but it was pretty exciting.”
It was an early start for Ziomek on Friday. He woke at 7 a.m. to undergo the physical along with a few other players the Tigers drafted.
“They had an EKG test. They must have drawn six vials of blood for tests for different things,” Ziomek said. “Typical stuff like blood pressure and height and weight. A bunch of other random stuff.”
The Class A short-season league started Monday and runs through early September.
“I’m not 100 percent sure what’s going to happen,” he said. “I know I’m going to be here for a little bit, probably a week, and they had talked about sending me up to Connecticut to play.”
Ziomek said he will spend his week working out and throwing bullpen sessions. Detroit’s two teams in Lakeland are the Flying Tigers, a Class A Advanced affiliate, and the Gulf Coast League Tigers, a rookie-level squad.
“I’ll be working out with (the Flying Tigers) for now,” Ziomek said. “I don’t anticipate pitching for them.”
Ziomek is rooming with Austin Kubitza, a right-hander from Rice who the Tigers selected in the fourth round. Ziomek has also spent time with Detroit area scout Harold Zonder, who spent a lot of time watching him in college.
“Most of those kids who go through Vanderbilt are either hard workers, or they’ve learned to be hard workers,” Zonder told The Detroit News. Detroit’s “getting a great kid here. But I think what got it for me this year is he commanded his fastball so much better. And in those last few weeks of the season, they (coach Tim Corbin and staff) kind of changed the grip on his change-up that made it better. He really threw well.”
Ziomek was named to Baseball America’s All-American third team.
Pitching in the coveted Friday-night role for the Commodores, Ziomek finished his junior season 11-3 with a 2.12 ERA, the fifth lowest mark in school history and best since 1973. Ziomek had three complete games, including a one-hit, 15-strikeout shutout against Illinois-Chicago.
He threw 119 innings, allowed 79 hits, struck out 115 and walked 40.
During his college career as a starter and reliever, Ziomek went 19-9 with 3.03 ERA. He struck out 241 and walked 95 over 243 2∕3 innings.
Ziomek has not been told how he will be used by Detroit.
“I think they want to start me but honestly I’ll take whatever path they want me to take,” Ziomek said. “Whichever way gets me up there.”
Ziomek will see some familiar faces during his path through Detroit’s minor league system.
The Tigers drafted Vanderbilt outfielder Connor Harrell in the seventh round this year. Last year, the club took Commodores’ pitchers Drew VerHagen and Will Clinard. And Aaron Westlake, Ziomek’s teammate during his freshman year, was taken in 2011.
VerHagen and Clinard are playing in Double-A Erie.
“I talked to pretty much all of them,” Ziomek said. “One of them is down here on rehab so we’re planing to hang out a little bit, Aaron Westlake. I think we’re planing on going to dinner tonight which will be good. There are a couple pitchers who are up at Double-A right now so I’ve talked to them a lot. It’s nice to have a couple guys who I can go to for advice on how to handle all this.”
It’s been a busy month for Ziomek. The MLB draft was held during Vanderbilt’s postseason run. After spending some time with his family, he jumped right back into baseball.
“The past week at home was good for me because I could slow everything down and relax with my family,” Ziomek said. “Now that I’m down here things are moving again which is exciting.”
If he starts his career in Norwich, there could be a sizable number of fans from western Massachusetts making a road trip.
“That’d be awesome,” Ziomek said. “I hope that’s how it works. We’ll see.”
Mike Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.