A year ago at this time, the future was uncertain for Dace Kime.
Kime, 22, was finishing up his junior season at the University of Louisville and was getting ready for the MLB Draft. He was also making a transition from a back-end bullpen arm in college to a starter.
"To be honest, I really did not have any expectations," Kime recalled about his mindset at this time last season. "At that time we were going to Vanderbilt to play in the Super Regional and that was a big rivalry for us. I know myself and all of the other draft-eligible guys were more focused what we were going to do with that series more than the draft."
The draft process can be distracting for some players who don’t know how to handle the attention. With numerous scouts in attendance at almost every game, countless front office personnel for teams catching a sneak peak and the endless interviews, questionnaires and visits, it is a process that can take some of the focus away from the game for a player if they let it.
But Kime did his best to block it out and go out and perform. When it came time for the draft, he tried to keep his attention on the task at hand.
"We were actually still on the bus going to Vanderbilt and that’s when I got the phone call and everything," Kime remembered. "It really caught me by surprise because I was just sitting there listening to music and my phone went off. It was my advisor and he talked to me about everything and I found out then. Most of the other guys found out later in the day."
The Indians selected Kime in the third round of the 2013 Draft. Even though he is born and raised in Ohio and hails from Defiance, Ohio, he never felt his home state team was interesting in drafting him.
"I can’t really say because throughout the year you have so many meetings with guys coming in," Kime said. "Some guys maybe came in one or two more times than the others, but for the most part I met with every team once — though maybe the Indians a few more times. It was definitely them and about five other teams who I and my advisor were thinking I was going to go, but when they called I was not expecting it."
Now that the draft is over and Kime is settling into the organization, he is working on his transition from the college game to the pro game. He got his pro career off on the right start last season with a nice start at short season Single-A Mahoning Valley where he went 0-2 with a 2.92 ERA in nine starts.
Kime is looking to build off of the foundation he established last season with a good season this year on and off the mound.
"I thought I had a good year last year and felt like it was a good start to my career and hopefully I just keep building on it," Kime said. "I think [that first year] is more about getting players comfortable with the travel, the stadiums, paying for your own stuff — just the whole environment. That is the main difference. You have guys coming off college scholarships being pushed out into the real world. It is just about trying to make that an easy transition for everybody."
Another thing last season at Mahoning Valley provided Kime was an opportunity to continue to work through his transition into a starting pitcher. His first two years in college he pitched out of the bullpen and even started in the bullpen last season, but he was moved to the rotation shortly into the season and that is when his draft stock started to rise.
"I know [my college] coaches had always thought of me as a durable guy," Kime said. "I was always a guy that really bounced back out of the bullpen and I could pretty much throw every two days. It actually kind of came at the expense of one of my friends Anthony Kidston who is a sophomore now and was our Sunday starter. He tore his labrum halfway through the season and they needed someone to step up. I pitched that Tuesday game and went six innings and gave up two hits, and after that they talked to me after the game and said I needed to bounce back because they were moving me to Sunday. It was just more of a spur of the moment thing and came at the cost of someone else’s injury. For me, it was the best situation for me."
Since then Kime has been working to adjust to the different routine required of a starting pitcher.
"Getting the routine down is the biggest thing," Kime said. "As a reliever you kind of have to be ready for every situation whereas as a starter I know exactly when I am going to start. I can prepare for that one day and start whereas as a reliever you have to be ready every night because you never know when you are going to be called upon. That is what I liked about being a reliever is you can have a bad outing and two or three days later you got another chance. As a starter you have to wait five more days to do it again."
Kime is also working on refining his mechanics and developing consistency in his outings.
"I haven’t added anything as I am just fastball, curveball and changeup," Kime said. "I have just kind of been working on refining my mechanics. There are just little changes I make every time out after watching the video and stuff like that. When you are out there you kind of pick out everything you do wrong because you kind of have to be a perfectionist so you can go out there and compete at a consistent level every time."
Such work can sometimes lead to inconsistent outings with some substandard results, but that is also the way the minor leagues work. Sometimes a pitcher has to table their best pitch and even their second best pitch in order to throw and their third and/or fourth pitcher more often so they can be developed. The same thing applies to delivery adjustments. In the end, the focus is always on the process and development — performance is always secondary because a lot of times there are things being worked on which can affect that performance.
"It is completely process-oriented," Kime said. "You talk to your coordinators and they say ‘Hey, in this next start we really want you to throw your curveball.’ So you guy out there and you throw it in unorthodox counts at 1-0 and 2-0. That might be the hardest thing to get over. The fans are going to boo and the family wants to know what the hell is going on, but in your head you have to go back to the locker room and just say I did what I needed to do today and that is all that matters. You are completely focused on throwing that fastball in and end up walking five guys because that is what you are really focusing in on."
Kime was a junior in college when he was drafted, but he worked hard to finish school and graduated in December with a degree in Exercise Science. He has since thought about going back to school for his master’s degree in nutrition or psychology, but for now is just concentrating on improving as a pitcher so he can continue to move up in the Indians minor league system.
"That was the biggest thing for me," Kime said. "I knew the draft was going to be a big thing for me, so I did everything I could to get all of my classes done as soon as I could, and I went back and finished in three and a half years. I know a lot of people are happy for me about that."
Kime likes to hunt and golf. He also likes to listen to music, workout, and go on long runs. All of them serve as a way to get him to relax and also clear his head from the daily pressures that come with the game of baseball.
As a high-round draft pick, Kime has a lot to live up to, but he is ready for the challenge and wants this season to be the next step forward in his progression to the mound in a major-league stadium.
"To be honest, I just want to be better than I was at the beginning of the season," Kime noted about how he wants to look back on this season when it ends. "I was talking to my family about this the other day. I don’t really have any goals with stats and I don’t even want to be an All-Star or think about that. I have always been a team player and the only way to do that is being my best every time out and go out there and just throw, work hard, take care of my own stuff between starts and hopefully everything will take care of itself out on the field too."