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Your Random D-Back: Kam Mickolio

The wolf we don’t know about.

Arizona Diamondbacks Photo Day
This is him.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A lone wolf in forgotten territory.

“It’s tough to get seen up there,” he said. “It’s kind of forgotten territory.” - Kam Mickolio quoted in the Seattle Times in 2011 on playing baseball in Montana

There aren’t many players that hail from Montana and have made the MLB. According to baseball-reference just 26 players that were born in Montana enjoyed the opportunity of at least an inning pitched or an at bat in the major leagues. Of those, 3-time All Star Dave McNally might ring a bell to the old timers. The pitcher, who died in 2002, spent almost his entire career at the Baltimore Orioles and added one more year in Montreal, from 1962 to 1975, and threw 2730.0 innings. Ed Bouchee (rookie of the year runner up in 1956 for the Phillies) and John Lowenstein might be lesser known. I am not sure if the latter actually lived long in Montana, since he went to high school in California, but he shares two things in common with today’s random D-Back. Just like Kam Mickolio he was born in Wolf Point, Montana, and both played (some time) for the Baltimore Orioles.

It shows how tough it is for a kid from Montana to even make just one appearance in the MLB. Mickolio encountered the difficulties all kids from that state will face if they wish to make their dream come true. Absent any high school baseball circuit in the state, young Mickolio played American Legion Baseball, a competition organised since the mid 20s of the previous century, by a private nonprofit veteran’s organisation. There he apparently plays for the Belgrade Bandits, before he graduates from Bozemont High School.

He is a Golden Eagle in 2003 and 2004, playing as a freshman and sophomore for the baseball team of the Utah State University Eastern. In 2003, after pitching to a 3.05 ERA, he draws some interest from scouts and is selected in the 2003 amateur draft by the Cardinals in round 46, but decides to continue his college career. In 2005 he makes a switch and joins the Utah Valley University to become a Wolverine.

He hardly achieves good results as a junior and senior in the Independent NCAA, pitching to a 7.98 and 5.30 ERA with a SO/9 that doesn’t surpass the 6. Still, he is taken rather “early” in the 2006 amateur draft, when the Seattle Mariners take him in the 18th round. Why?

“An 18th-round pick last year out of Utah Valley State, Mickolio has only been pitching for the last four years. Not only did he not take the mound for the first time until he was nearly 18, but his home state of Montana doesn’t have any organized high school baseball, so his experience in the sport in general is extremely limited. At 6-foot-9 and nearly 260 pounds, he’s as intimidating as a pitcher can get, and he’s already made great strides since signing by adding velocity to his fastball, which now touches 96 mph, while also developing a slider that projects as a plus pitch. He has a long way to go when it comes to throwing strikes and smoothing out his mechanics, but tuck his name away as a deep sleeper. At 6-foot-9 and nearly 260 pounds, he’s as intimidating as a pitcher can get, and he’s already made great strides since signing by adding velocity to his fastball, which now touches 96 mph, while also developing a slider that projects as a plus pitch. He has a long way to go when it comes to throwing strikes and smoothing out his mechanics, but tuck his name away as a deep sleeper.” - Baseball Prospectus in 2008 on Kam Mickolio

6-foot-9. That is just an inch under Randy Johnson.

The rollover to professional baseball and a move to the bullpen does Kam Mickolio miracles. In the year he is drafted, 2006, he pretty much blows batters away with his pitches in A+ and by the end of 2007 he has already reached Triple A and the PCL, increasing the strikeouts and limiting the hits.

“Mickolio, 23, has added several miles per hour on his fastball since college, which he said has come from better mechanics and getting stronger. [...] “He’s just more proof that players come from all rounds in the draft, not just the first few picks.” - Seattle Times in an article in 2011 on Kam Mickolio and quoting from the Mariners’ director of player development

The wolf becomes a bird.

The Seattle Mariners decide to take advantage of the track record and little recognition Mickolio is getting and he becomes part of a high-profile trade with the Baltimore Orioles, that sends starting pitcher Erik Bedard to Seattle and a prospect package the other way, including Mickolio, but of which future All-Star (and former D-Back) Adam Jones is the headline.

The Orioles look to be less bullish on Mickolio than the Mariners and have him start in AA in 2008, but is promoted in July to AAA and, after pitching to a 1.80 ERA, makes his MLB debut on August 20 in a game against the Red Sox in that same year. He gives up a run in the 8th inning, but that is more than enough to secure a 11-6 win for the Orioles. He continues to pitch in 7.2 innings and the results aren’t great with a 5.87 ERA, but his FIP is much more promising with 2.61 and at the beginning of 2009 FanGraphs ranks him amongst the club’s top prospects:

“After the Bedard trade, Kam Mickolio went from seldom-talked-about sleeper to Major Leaguer and intriguing prospect who could play a key role in 2009. [...] He can touch the mid-90s with the heater and could be in line for a set-up role in 2009.” - FanGraphs in 2009 on Kam Mickolio and the Orioles’ top prospects

In 2009 Mickolio starts in AAA again, but is moved up and down between Norfolk and the major league team continuously. The pitcher shows he has nothing left to prove in Triple A and puts up good numbers in the MLB as well: a 2.63 ERA (2.58 FIP) is fine for a reliever. The only thing holding Mickolio back from longer stints at the highest level is his spotty control: his BB/9 is closer to 5 than 4: awful.

“[...] the 6’9” monster is still far from a finished product. His control is mainly to blame [...]. He also relies heavily on one pitch (his fastball at 80.3% of the time) but his slider also has a lot of promise. [...] If everything clicks – and he can get his ground ball numbers back to a reasonable rate – then Mickolio could develop into the O’s closer.” - FanGraphs in 2010 on Prospect No. 8 Kam Mickolio

By the end of 2009, shoulder problems begin to bother Mickolio, something that reappears during the 2010 season. It might be one explanation of his struggles in the 2010 season, where he is not able to live up to the expectation. His velocity has dropped with a mile and hitters start to get to his pitches and the reliever pitches to a terrible 6.37 ERA in AAA and 7.36 ERA in the MLB. He makes just 3 appearances on the highest level.

The wolf turns into a snake.

The Diamondbacks are looking to ship off a bunch off players in the 2011 off-season, coming of a 90+ loss season. One of them is strike-out king, but slugger Mark Reynolds. In a roster-clearing and cost-saving move, Reynolds is moved to Baltimore during the winter meetings (together with PTBNL John Hester), in what becomes the first trade ever the Diamondbacks make with Baltimore (just 6 in total). The main piece to obtain from Baltimore is David Hernandez, who would later become one of the favourite relievers in Arizona. Mickolio is a toss-in and a possible change-of-scenery candidate.

Kam Mickolio has an unspectacular 2011 Spring Training, also spotted by Jim McLennan, but beats Esmerling Vazquez for an Opening Day roster spot and immediately jumps into action on April 2nd, pitching a clear 7th inning at Coors, where the D-Backs lose 3-1 to the Rockies.

Two days later he is less lucky when he gives up two doubles in a game against the Chicago Cubs, recording just one out. He is tagged for 2 runs and fails to keep the game close, the Cubs extending their lead from 2-1 to 4-1, being that eventually the final score.

Six days later he pitches two clean innings in an early relief in a home game against the Reds, but the wheels completely fall off two days later in a game against the Cardinals.

Mickolio enters the game with a 9-5 lead in the 6th inning, but struggles heavily with his command. He throws just 21 strikes in 37 pitches in 0.2 innings of work. He gives up 3 runs during the way and the D-Backs need Joe Paterson to get the final out. After that game, the Diamondbacks option him to the Reno Aces. By the end of May, the Diamondbacks call upon him again and despite pitching scoreless innings in two games, the control problems again rise during his final outing against the Astros. His velocity also has a remarkable drop and the Diamondbacks again option the reliever to Reno and decide to not make use of him during the rest of the season. His performance for the Aces isn’t that bad though: Mickolio achieves a sub-5.00 ERA but suppresses the home runs enough for NPB teams to show some interest.

The rising suns.

At the end of the 2011 season Kam Mickolio is granted a release aka is sold to the Hiroshima Carp of the Japanese NPB in November. The Carp are a low profile team in the NPB and not expected to compete. But on a team that also highlights future Dodger Kenta Maeda, Mickolio easily makes the closer role his. If hitters square up on his pitching repertoire, the pitcher is homer-prone, but hits, walks and strikeouts are all top of his team and he is one of the better relievers in the entire NPB. The following 2013 and 2014 seasons are not as good as his 2012 season, walks increase again while the strikeouts drop, but the results are fine enough to secure the closer job, although Mickolio ends his time in 2014 with Hiroshima on the injured list: a hip injury keeps him from appearing in the play-offs.

In 2015 Mickolio becomes a Golden Eagle again, although this time with the Japanese Rakuten ones. He is supposed to become their new closer, but at the start of the season the right-hander needs to undergo surgery to repair a disc hernia, which pretty much knocks him out for the entire season. Once he returns he has lost the closer job. In 2016 season he is healthy though, but isn’t given the closer role. After 5 years in Japan, Mickolio decides to return to the States in 2017.

He signs, rather late in May 2017, a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins and is headed for extended Spring Training. He is assigned to AAA, but soon moves to the injured list with a shoulder injury and doesn’t return until the minor league season is over.

The injury probably lingers on. He doesn’t return in 2018, but in 2019 appears in the independent league for the Long Island Ducks. The results are abysmal though and after just a month he decides to retire altogether.

After retirement Mickolio settles back to Arizona, and joins his wife and their family there. After a life of travelling and chasing his dreams, he now probably supports his wife’s Tiffany her dreams, who started her own real estate agency in 2018 and specialises, as her website states, in “serving the greater Phoenix area and the 15 major league teams who have spring training there, serving baseball players and other high-profile sports and entertainment figures.”

Like you see with most former random D-Backs, baseball has always been serving their life long term one way or another.