Robert Klinchock is at an unsettling point in his professional baseball career.
The former Shenandoah University pitcher, who was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 35th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft last June, made his pro debut last summer in the lower levels of Detroit’s farm system and eventually closed out the 2019 season at Single-A West Michigan.
Klinchock, who was awed by the Minor League experience, was eager to get back out on the field again in 2020 and showcase what he could do on the mound, the left-hander said earlier this week. He’d spent five months in the offseason trying to improve and ready himself for a February trip to Florida for spring training.
The COVID-19 outbreak brought the nation to a standstill last month, and MLB suspended spring training in mid-March. MLB and Minor League Baseball have not yet set an official start date for the 2020 season, leaving Klinchock and many players stuck in an uncomfortable waiting game.
Klinchock, who has been at home in Pittsburgh, said on Tuesday that it’s a “weird time for everybody involved,” noting that players, and even his parents, are concerned about what the fallout from the spread of the new coronavirus means for professional baseball players, particularly minor leaguers.
“It kind of puts a big question mark over some guys because everyone is ready to show what they improved on in the offseason, and to have such a short spring training, it kind of goes against some guys and it kind of helps other guys. That’s probably the biggest concern, is you might not have enough time to get ready, which might have a negative effect on how a team sees you,” Klinchock said.
“I spent what season there was (left after he was drafted in 2019), obviously worked my hardest in the offseason trying to fix some mechanical stuff, trying to add a little (velocity), and all the sudden to have that kind of put on hold was kind of a bummer.”
To make matters worse, Klinchock said he has no idea where he’ll begin the 2020 season when it finally does get rolling. Klinchock began 2019 in rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League before getting promoted to West Michigan in early August.
“I’ve heard rumors that we might go straight to affiliates, like straight to Single-A or whatever and just start the season there like how we had it in spring training,” Klinchock said. “I really can’t say where I’ll be because I don’t even know myself. I was only down in Florida (for spring training) for like five days before I was sent home, so I don’t really have a good answer for that question. I wish I did. I wish I could tell you, but I honestly don’t know. We don’t even know when the season will start.”
Klinchock has had a difficult time in recent weeks making sure he’s still in baseball shape, as he said Pittsburgh is “completely on lockdown” in an effort to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“They closed all the baseball fields, all the parks. Throwing has been a really tough task to do now because I can’t really go outside and play catch with my dad because I’m gonna get in trouble for it,” Klinchock said. “All the gyms are closed too, so even working out is tough. I’m trying to find stuff to do in my house, trying to squat some stuff or try to curl some stuff, trying to keep my body in shape while the gyms are all closed.”
Klinchock said he recently reconnected with a former trainer who has a home gym and was able to get some weight-lifting in before that no longer became an option. For the past few days, Klinchock said his workouts have been more cardio-based.
The left-hander, who served as Shenandoah’s ace in 2019 and delivered a pair of huge complete-game performances during the Hornets’ championship run through the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament, said he’s still managed to do a “decent amount” of throwing despite the circumstances.
“But it’s hard to go outside. I was actually outside a few days ago when I was throwing with my dad and the police came by our baseball field and told everybody to go home,” Klinchock said. “Having that kind of happen was kind of mind-blowing. I’ve never been a part of something crazy like this before, so to actually be a part of a true lockdown is pretty weird.”
Klinchock said his workout routine is a “big piece to my game,” and he added that getting back on track would be key for him in 2020 after spending all offseason working on adding more velocity to his fastball and fixing some “mechanical issues” on the mound.
MLB also relieved some financial concerns for players like Klinchock when it extended its financial support to minor leaguers through May 31 or until the beginning of the Minor League season, whichever occurs first. The league announced all players also will continue to receive medical benefits.
“There’s a bunch of guys that can’t really find jobs because everything’s closed,” Klinchock said, “so to kind of have that little money in your back pocket is nice, to kind of sit down and relax a little bit instead of having to stress about finding a job or anything like that while we’re just waiting to see what’s going on.”
When Klinchock does return to the mound, he’ll do so looking to build on a debut season in which he went 2-4 with a 4.65 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 50 ⅓ innings split between the rookie and Single-A levels.
Klinchock made nine appearances, including four starts, with the GCL Tigers East last summer, going 2-3 with a 4.79 ERA, 32 strikeouts and 11 walks in 35 ⅔ innings before getting promoted to West Michigan. Klinchock made three starts in Single-A for the Whitecaps, posting a 4.30 ERA, 11 strikeouts and two walks in 14 ⅔ innings.
“It was good,” Klinchock said of his first pro season. “Obviously, I wish I kind of did a little better as far as stats go but I thought I held my own throughout my mechanical flaws that I developed and all that stuff.”
Klinchock said his time spent at West Michigan was “a blast.”
“It was everything I kind of dreamed of growing up and playing. Obviously, it’s not the major leagues but we were pulling seven to 8,000 fans a game. To throw in front of that atmosphere and that crowd was awesome,” Klinchock said.
“The fans were amazing, the crowd was amazing. Kind of getting the chance to talk to the fans before the game, sign autographs was kind of what I pictured pro ball to be like.”