The first word Welby Malczewski’s coaches use when asked about him is “excitement.” It’s for good reason. Having a big, left-handed pitcher who throws hard and can get the ball over the plate is an exciting thing, no matter if you’re the Peninsula Pilots or Auburn University.
“He’s a power arm from the left side, throws two good breaking pitches and pounds the strike zone,” Pilots assistant coach Wes McGuire said. “Big, projectable kid. A good pitcher to have on your staff.”
At 6-foot-6 and a shade over 240 pounds, Malczewski has similar size to San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner. Both are left-handed, but Malczewski is an inch taller and a few pounds lighter.
“He’s got a good fastball, you know 88-91 (mph), and he can run it up there a little higher than that from time to time,” Pilots manager Hank Morgan said of Malczewski. “He’s got enough on his fastball where you can’t cheat him on his off-speed stuff because he’ll catch you up with 91.”
Malczewski had Tommy John surgery in October 2014 and tossed just 20 innings this year at the National Junior College Athletic Association level for Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill. But his videos showed enough promise to persuade Auburn’s coaching staff to take a chance on him.
“In the college game, it’s so hard to get left-handed velocity,” Auburn assistant coach Brad Bohannon said. “He was a little bit of a gamble just because there was a track record of injury. But if you’re going to take a gamble, you take it on a big-bodied left-handed pitcher who throws hard.”
Malczewski, who was chosen by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 37th round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft last week, also took a bit of a gamble with Auburn, which brought in a new coaching staff in October. But he was sold on the opportunity to develop his game under one of the “best pitching coaches around” in Butch Thompson.
“When I went on my visit, I just really felt something special there,” Malczewski said. “I really clicked with the coaching staff.”
So for the summer, the Auburn staff told Malczewski to have some fun and log innings. The staff at Heartland helped him land with the Pilots.
“It was set up by my assistant coach back at Heartland and it’s probably the best decision I think I’ve made,” Malczewski said. “The fans here are awesome, the stadium has awesome history, it’s a real special place to pitch at.”
A point of emphasis for Malczewski this summer is consistency. His first start, in the Pilots’ home opener, was a one-hit shutout win against Wilson in which he pitched 5 2/3 innings. In his next outing, he gave up seven earned runs in three innings in a 10-7 loss to Edenton, ballooning his earned-run average to 5.91.
Bohannon said that in-game experience with the Pilots should help Malczewski get into a rhythm.
“You get to a place in baseball where you just practice, practice, practice, but at some point you’ve got to just get in the game,” Bohannon said. “Welby just needs to pitch. I think you can say that about a lot of 21-year-old baseball players, that they need the innings, and that’s where Welby is right now.”
In other words, there is no substitution for getting on the mound and putting in the work.
“I pride myself on my work ethic,” Malczewski said. “And I think that’s the biggest thing for me on and off the baseball field. Anything I do is 110 percent.”
Morgan says Malczewski has established himself as a leader in the Pilots’ clubhouse.
“He’s got a good personality and a good sense of humor,” Morgan said. “He’s not a noisemaker, but when he speaks, it’s usually witty and light. I think a lot of times when leaders speak, they’re heard because they don’t speak too often. He’s got that art figured out.”
“I’m a pretty relaxed person. Blue-collar, from a blue-collar family,” Malczewski said. “Not too much really gets under my skin.”