Drafted by the Phillies in the 17th round out of Duke University this year, righty hurler Kenny Koplove has been living his dream.
The 22-year-old is a South Philadelphia resident and grew up rooting for the team that now employs him.
Through 14 relief appearances with the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters, the six-foot-two 170-pounder has tallied a 1-2 record with a 5.62 ERA while striking out 19 and 10 walks in 24 innings.
This week I spoke with Kenny about his draft experience, Duke athletics, his transition to the pro ranks and plenty more. Read ahead for the full interview.
-Take me through your draft experience. What was it like, how did you track it and how did you celebrate?
The day before the draft, I went to the pre-draft workout at Citizens Bank Park, which is around the corner from my house. I can walk there, which I did. Then draft day came and we didn’t expect anything to happen on the first day and it was quiet. Second day, we got a few calls, but nothing really came about. Third day, we were hoping to get some action and nothing came early. Then the Phillies called and they were basically like, ‘Hey, would you sign with us?’ And it was kind of like a dream come true type deal. The team I grew up watching. I mean, my favorite player growing up was Jimmy Rollins. He was the shortstop for so many years. So, when that opportunity arose, it was kind of like a surreal moment. My mom started crying. My dad was really ecstatic. So, it was really a special moment for my family.
-You mention the team calling. Was that before the pick?
It was- well, they were corresponding with my agent, my adviser at the time. Kinda called me real quick and was like, ‘Hey, would you sign?’ And it was like a no doubt moment. I looked at my dad and my mom and I said I want to do it and my parents said, ‘Yeah, absolutely!’ It was the team we always wanted something to happen with and we’re very fortunate that it did.
-So, your spring wrapped up huge with that draft. I imagine with the other Blue Devils, the Duke men’s basketball team that won the National Championship, got the spring started on the right foot down on campus.
Yeah, absolutely. The whole campus was pretty ecstatic. We just got into (the baseball) season when they won the title. I remember going out that night and campus was electric. The main thing was the burning of the benches, where they take all the benches from in front of all the dorms and they make a big bonfire. That was a pretty special moment for me, to be there when they won the National Title. It was a really cool experience.
-Do you know any of those guys from the basketball team?
Yeah. I had a couple classes with a few of them. I see them walking around all the time. We have a huge study hall center called the K Center where we, as athletes, have to go there to complete homework. So, I’d see Jahlil and Tyus and Justice, three guys that went in the first round. I didn’t know them too well, but I talk to Marshall Plumlee and a few of the other guys. They’re all good guys. I mean, and it’s pretty cool to say I went to school with three first rounders.
-And that could be a fun goal for you, with Jahlil Okafor being the Sixers’ first round pick, to shoot for getting a Duke guy for both them and the Phillies. A nice little thing to shoot for, right?
Yeah, absolutely. Watching the (NBA) draft, I crossed my fingers that the Sixers picked him. I’m a big Sixers fan. Like I said, I’m from Philadelphia. Allen Iverson’s one of my favorite athletes of all time. When the opportunity arose that Philly could get him, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ And then there were rumors of a trade and I thought that was upsetting. But it looks like we’re going to keep him and hopefully, in a few years I can join him!
-Perfect. Now obviously, you’ve had some success since turning pro and I know players will credit their coaches sometimes for that. How has your pitching coach Les Lancaster helped you transition to the minors?
He’s been great. I mean, as soon as I came in here, he pointed out a few flaws in my delivery, especially just trying to speed me up. And the results kind of show for themselves. I had a bit of a slow start, but as of late, I’ve been pitching much, much better. I feel more comfortable on the mound. Especially being new to pitching. I played shortstop my entire collegiate career. So, being new to the mound and having him basically as a mentor is pretty awesome.
-What is your full repertoire right now and is there a go-to pitch?
My fastball’s probably my go-to pitch. (Les) told me be more confident in it, absolutely. I also feature a change up and a slider. The slider’s coming along, but I’d say might change up is my second best pitch.
-Talking to guys as they move up, players are always fond of Williamsport. Do you have impressions of the town?
Absolutely. I mean, the town comes out and supports us every night. We draw a good crowd for a very small town, but they’re a big baseball city with the Little League World Series right there. Everybody knows the game. They’re very supportive of us. So, I mean, it’s pretty awesome. My host family- outstanding! I know all the other host families do a great job. It’s a special team, a special moment. Something that you can cherish forever.
-How do you feel about how you’ve transitioned into pro ball? Is it what you expected?
I mean, kind of what I expected. My brother played professional baseball, so he’s given me a little bit of a rundown of what to expect. But the biggest change is playing every day. No off days. So, you’re just very calm, but when it’s game time, you have to go out there and perform and it’s every single day you’ve got to bring it.
-You mentioned your brother Mike Koplove. Is he sort of like an on demand consultant for you with your career in the early stages?
Absolutely. I call him pretty much after every outing. I send him footage after every outing. So, it’s- he’s there all the time. He’ll be here tonight. It’s a close drive for him, so that’s pretty cool.