Gronkiewicz, 29, turned in a typically-strong relief campaign, going 6-3, 2.41 with 83-10 K-BB in 74 2/3 innings in the Blue Jays system this season. Signed as a nondrafted free agent by the Indians from South Carolina in 2001, the 5-foot-10 Gronkiewicz has had to fight for every opportunity. He’s also been a middle reliever for Team USA the last two years, teams that won both the Olympic qualifying tournament in 2006 and the recent World Cup.
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He sounds like a great depth stash for Pawtucket's bullpen, and with his closing experience I'm wondering if he'll be given a shot at the Gagne role for the Sox. With his rather moderate velocity (88-91 on his fastball according to an interview linked below), would that limit his ability to fill that position at the major league level? Or would his diverse pitch arsenal be an advantage in setting up Paps?
In 2003, the 37 saves he logged for high-class-A Kinston led the minors. Toronto snagged him from the Indians in the Rule 5 draft after the 2004 season. I doubt it's a coincidence that he signed with the Sox, considering John Farrell was Cleveland's farm director during Gronkiewicz' time there, and I'm betting Farrell knew the front office was leaving a solid arm unprotected.
Hard to find any fault with his career numbers: 2.48 ERA, 3.79 K/BB, and 7.96 H/9IP, which have been pretty consistent year to year. He split 2005 and 2007 between AA New Hampshire and AAA Syracuse, and spent all of 2006 at Syracuse.
He made his MLB debut (and his only appearance of the season with the Jays) last June 19 at SkyDome in a 10-1 loss to the Dodgers, pitching the 5th through 8th innings. In 4 IP he logged 2 BB, 2 H, and 2 Ks (Jeff Kent & Matt Kemp), and the lone run he gave up came on a Russell Martin solo shot to left-center in the 6th. The other hit was a Troy Glaus single to left.
From a 9/2/05 Scout.com interview:
InsideTheDome: Give us a little scouting report about yourself on the mound. What pitches do you throw, how hard, and what pitch would you consider your best pitch?
Lee Gronkiewicz: I have 5 pitches in my repertoire. I throw a fastball in the 88-91 range, a curve in the 68-70 MPH range, a slider/slurve which is in the 75-76 MPH range, a changeup in the 78-80 MPH range, and a cut fastball which clocks at 82-84 MPH range. Recently I have lost my cut fastball and it had turned too big. So it is little slow right now. I am working to getting it back in the 80's
InsideTheDome: Is there a pitch you are currently working on to improve on, or even one that you are trying to learn and add to your repertoire?
Lee Gronkiewicz: Well I am always working on locating my fastball. I feel like I have done a good job with that this year and am working on getting better always. Right now my focus is on getting my cut fastball back to 82-84 MPH. It has slowed down to 78-79 MPH and it is too close to my slider speed. It has recently turned into the same pitch, which is not good.
InsideTheDome: If there is one thing you would like to work on to improve in your game, what would it be?
Lee Gronkiewicz: Well I can’t grow five more inches so I guess I will have learn how to gain maybe a mile or two on my fastball. I would like to improve on my location of all my pitches. I can throw all my pitches for strikes. I think the next step is being able to throw all my pitches for quality strikes. What I mean by that is to be able to throw my curve and slider on the black of the plate. Right now I leave it on the outer third of the plate.
From a 1/12/06 Scout.com article, he spent the 2005-06 off-season pitching in Mexico after spending the previous winter in Puerto Rico & Venezuela:
In 36 appearances he went 5-2 with a 2.34 ERA, allowing 35 hits in 42.1 innings of work, while issuing 16 walks and recording 35 strikeouts. Opponents batted just .223 off Gronkiewicz in Mexico.
“My experience in Mexico was great” said the 27-year-old. “I loved the city and the fans were outstanding. Baseball is real competitive there and I faced a lot of American veteran batters. The competition definitely helped me grow.”
Although he didn’t plan it - Gronkiewicz pitched out of the stretch the entire time in Mexico.In one game he was summoned in quickly, and didn’t have time to warm up, as a result he did not pitch out of the wind up. After throwing a good game that day, he never threw out of the wind-up again.
“I also worked on being a little quicker to the plate and holding the ball better when runners were on base.”
Like Farrell, Gronkowski also had a front row seat to the porn film controversy surrounding Kazuhito Tadano:
"There was an initial acknowledgement of his story, about his involvement in this one-time event," said Farrell. "There was an understanding that he faced a tough road ahead and they truly felt for him. They admired the courage that he had to face up to the truth and openly discussed it with them."
His Kinston teammates gave him plenty of support. After Tadano addressed the team, each player came to his locker to shake his hand.
"It took a lot for him to admit what he did," Kinston closer Lee Gronkiewicz said. "But it took a lot more for him to say it in front of all of us. What matters is what he does on the field anyway--and you can't take away anything he's done on the field, that's for sure."