Kern Heads to KC
What a year it’s been for Bruce Kern. The Long Island native was released by the Colorado Rockies in March after struggling in 2016 with the Advanced-A Modesto Nuts. Injuries had affected him earlier in the year, and he ultimately was in need of a place to continue playing baseball. Thankfully, his hometown Ducks gave him the opportunity to earn a spot on the roster as a Spring Training invitee, and the right-handed pitcher simply took it and ran with it.
Now, less than a year later and after an impressive 2015 campaign, Kern has earned a second chance to live out his Major League dream. Not only was he offered a contract with a Major League organization, he was given that opportunity by the defending World Series champions. The Kansas City Royals took notice of him both during the season on Long Island and during his workouts this offseason at All Pro Sports Academy in Bellport. Weeks later, they offered him a contract, and he is now preparing for Spring Training down in Surprise, Arizona. In addition, Kern is slated to begin the year with the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals of the Texas League.
The 27-year-old provided tremendous versatility for the Ducks pitching staff this past season. He began the year as primarily a relief pitcher, quickly proving to be a reliable arm for manager Kevin Baez in the late innings. The early part of the season also presented the Ducks with a pair of day/night doubleheaders, and Kern started both. He threw three scoreless innings in a 3-2 win over Lancaster on May 9 and allowed one unearned run over five innings in a 2-1 victory over Southern Maryland on June 8. In July, he struck out eight batters over six innings in a 9-4 win over Somerset and threw six shutout innings in relief of newcomer Darin Downs at Lancaster.
Baez had seen all he needed to, and the St. John’s University alum became a full-time starter by the end of the month. He started 10 of his final 11 games during the regular season before starting Game Four of the Liberty Division Championship Series at Somerset. Kern allowed just three runs over six innings and struck out seven that day, but he ultimately suffered the loss that forced a decisive Game Five. Long Island’s season would end disappointingly one day later. Despite the bitter end, Kern had proved himself greatly in the Atlantic League. He finished the year with a career-high nine wins, compared to just six losses, and a 3.51 ERA in 40 games (13 starts). He also struck out 102 batters in 107 and two-thirds innings of work while walking just 31.
We had the chance to catch up with Bruce recently to discuss the 2015 season and his exciting new adventure ahead:
What are your emotions heading into this season with the Royals?
“Obviously, I’m extremely excited. I feel like most people don’t even get a first chance in affiliated baseball, and here I am getting my second chance. I’m just truly grateful for that opportunity to prove that I can be a big leaguer.”
How did this opportunity come about?
“I was just working at All Pro, and one of the Royals’ scouts, Paul Gibson, was asking about me. He was asking if I was still interested in playing pro baseball, and I was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely! Of course!’ He said, ‘I don’t want to make any promises, but I saw you pitch with the Ducks a few times this year and I want to let you know that I’m trying to get you a contract with us.’ Then in late-January, I got a call out of the blue from them asking me to send all of my medical work from the Rockies to the Royals. When I heard that, I knew it was getting kind of serious. Sure enough, the farm director for the Royals, Ronnie Richardson, called me to tell me that Paul was speaking really highly of me and that he has a spot open in Double-A for me. He wanted to give me the opportunity to go there and prove myself.”
Is it more special for you that you’ll be playing in the organization of the defending World Series champions?
“It’s going to be pretty awesome to be around an organization that wins all the time and knows how to win. You get to be around all of those guys who have that experience and see how they handle themselves day in and day out. I’m excited to just be a part of it for sure.”
What did you enjoy most about your time with the Ducks?
“When I was with the Rockies, especially in Low-A and High-A, everything was about development. You kind of lose focus on the main point of baseball, which is winning. When I got to the Ducks, there was no development stuff going on. There was no pitch count. It was, ‘We want to win today; what are you going to do to help us win?’ That’s what baseball is and what it should be. I feel like I missed that for so long, so when I got to the Ducks, they would ask me to relieve one day, spot start next week and then become a full-time starter. They wanted to win, and I felt like they were giving me different roles because that was helping them win. It was awesome!”
Are you nervous you might lose that focus going back to affiliated baseball?
“Obviously, their focus is winning, and that’s why they win. I would say that’s probably why they are putting me in that upper level role because what I have is what I got. In baseball, you get better every day. You don’t ever stop developing, but the main focus in that Double-A and Triple-A level should be winning. That’s what I think it’s going to be like.”
How difficult was it for your season to end the way it did?
“Last year was tough to end the season that way. We went up two games to one, I thought for sure we would have it in the bag, and we ended up coming up a little short. I worked with KB [this offseason] over at All Pro, and I would always say when throwing my bullpens, ‘Man, I can’t wait to face Somerset next year!’ Obviously now I don’t think I’ll be able to, but you never know.”
Have you been surprised at all with how everything has gone in the last year?
“Am I surprised that the opportunity presented itself? Yes, but I hold myself to high expectations. Coming into the Ducks as an invitee, I was confident I would take a [roster] spot because I knew how good my stuff was and how competitive I am. I wasn’t just going to be afraid of anything. That’s one thing that I pride myself on. I’m going to come right at you with what I’ve got, so confidence was never a problem.”
Is there anything you plan to work on with the Royals?
“I feel like I have a really good repertoire now. I kind of have five pitches between my fastball, change-up, cutter, slider and curveball. It’s just really learning how to utilize those pitches in all four quadrants of the strike zone and how to mix speeds to different sides of the plate, up and down, and just learning a nice combination. I feel like my control is good to throw strikes, but I want my control to be better inside the strike zone with all of my pitches.”
What would you like to say to the Ducks fans that watched you this past season?
“I just want to thank everyone for all of their support in coming out to the games. I appreciate all of my family and friends coming out and watching me. It was the first time that I played professional baseball at home, and it really was an amazing experience. I loved every second of it. After every game, I tried to stay out there and sign autographs. I tried to come out early every game. I was trying to give back as much as I could because I really appreciated everyone.”
Best of luck, Bruce!
Posted on February 5, 2016, in Feature Articles and tagged 2015, All Pro Sports Academy, Atlantic League, Bruce Kern, Colorado Rockies, Double-A, Kansas City Royals, Kevin Baez, Long Island Ducks, Northwest Arkansas Naturals, St. John's University, Texas League. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.