This is the first in a continuing series on the recruitment of Utah left-hander Mark Pawelek by college coaches and professional scouts.
TEMPE, AZ – College scouts and professional coaches were ready with radar guns in hand when Utah left-hander Mark Pawelek strolled to the mound at the Team One West Showcase at Tempe Diablo Stadium – Spring Training home of the Anaheim Angels. The 6-foot-2 rising senior did not disappoint the horde behind home plate. The Springville (UT) High School southpaw hit 91 miles per hour with his first pitch of the night.
The showcase staff named him the top player in the Team One West Showcase after his dominating three inning performance that included seven strikeouts, while facing the minimum of nine batters.
In the past few years, Pawelek has traveled around the country to play baseball in places like Tucson, Arizona; Jupiter, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; Colorado; Kansas; Minnesota; and Long Beach, California. Most recently he was in Long Beach at the Area Code tryouts before heading further south to the Team One West Showcase in Tempe, Arizona.
Pawelek said that he travels to the various baseball hotbeds to face top competition – something he cannot do in his home state of Utah.
"I love this showcase because I know I'm playing against the best competition," said Pawelek, who enjoyed pitching in the stadium atmosphere. "These guys are not just high school players – they are the elite players in the country.
"I pitched in front of 50 to 60 scouts last night. If I wasn't here at Team One it wouldn't have happened."
Pawelek admitted that baseball opportunities are limited in Utah for the better players because of the lack of top flight competition and the cold weather.
"Defensively, Utah players are not very good," Pawelek lamented. "But we have a lot of good hitters because that is all we can do in the winter. Pitching and defense is tough because we are inside six months of the year."
When not playing baseball, Pawelek is a left-footed kicker on the high school football team. But most recruiting experts project his professional future to be in baseball – maybe as early as the 2005 Major League First Year Player Draft next June.
"I really don't listen to what people think because I have to keep working hard," Pawelek said. "My goal out of high school is to go to college and eventually go pro. It is very flattering when people tell me I will be drafted high, but they don't have a clue about the draft.
"I have to keep working hard and not get a big head. Right now, I'm leaning towards going to college."
Pawelek does state that if he is given life-changing money he would consider heading to a professional team.
"College is one step to get [to the professional ranks]," Pawelek said. "Mentally, I'm ready to go pro. I don't get rattled easily.
"My [high school] team will make errors and we do not score runs, so that has made me tougher knowing that I can't give up any runs when I'm pitching."
This season he had 156 strikeouts in 82 innings with only 18 walks and 14 hit batters. He finished the season with a 10-1 record and a 1.05 ERA.
His statistics netted him almost $400 from his father, Danny, in a rewards system. Pawelek received one dollar per strikeout, $100 for an earned run average under 1.50, $30 for a shutout, and $50 per win. He loses three dollars for every walk he gives up.
His dad also gives his five dollars for every batter he hits, so that he is not afraid to pitch inside. Pawelek does not intentionally throw at batter's to get that portion of the money.
"The reward system makes me want to try harder and do well," Pawelek said. "Why not try to rack up the money."
In a Little League playoff game the opposing team had runners on second and third with one out. His dad, the manager of the team, told the then 10-year-old to put the batter on first – expecting an intentional walk. Instead, Pawelek hit the batter. His dad stormed out of the dugout to find out why he hit the batter.
"I told him that if I walked him I would owe him money," Pawelek said with a broad grin. "But if I hit him then he owed me money."
Like most left-handers this young man is different. His favorite subject is English and he loves to write – something that most high school students dread.
"I like writing papers and using the creative side of my mind," Pawelek said. "I enjoy expressing my thoughts on paper."
He has done goofy things on the field. During a game this season, he threw a pitch and actually tripped over his shoelaces in true left-handed form. He landed face down on the dirt, while his teammates laughed uncontrollably.
"If I do something weird I tell people I'm left-handed," Pawelek said. "People tell me I'm goofy."
He is not only left-handed, but one of the top lefty pitchers in the country. He can throw any of five pitches for a strike at any time. His fastball has been clocked as high as 94 miles per hour.
Pawelek also has a nasty slider (84-85), a dirty change up (76-77), and a 12-6 curve (67-73). His breaking ball is already at the professional level.
"I figure the more pitches you have the better advantage you have over the hitter," said Pawelek, who throws two-seam and four-seam fastballs. "They only have a 20 percent chance of guessing the pitch.
"My curve is like a Barry Zito curve. It's slow, but it breaks."
Like many Utah natives, Pawelek is a Mormon. But he has already decided that whether he plays college or professional baseball that he will pass on his two-year mission to focus on the sport he loves.
"Both baseball and the mission are important to me," Pawelek said. "But I never want to give up baseball."