CURBSTONE Malaska moves up to Class AAA Bulls
The Cardinal Mooney High graduate will be one level away from the major leagues this season.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
BOARDMAN -- Mark Malaska of Youngstown didn't become a pitcher until he was discovered by chance while throwing batting practice three years ago as a junior for the University of Akron baseball team during Scout Day in the fall.
But this coming season, the 1996 Cardinal Mooney High graduate will begin his fourth season with the Tampa Bay Devils Rays' major league baseball organization, climbing for the first time to the Class AAA Durham (N.C.) Bulls after pitching Class AA ball last summer.
And by mid-summer, Malaska, 24, a 6-foot-3 left-handed pitcher and Tampa Bay's eighth-round draft choice in 2000, is hopeful that he can be called up to pitch in the major leagues.
That was the optimistic scenario that he outlined for the Curbstone Coaches Monday at their noon luncheon session at the Lockwood House.
"I'm waiting my turn. They say I'm going up next season," said Malaska, who in just three seasons in the Tampa Bay farm system has produced a high strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 346 to 90, powered by a 91-95 mph fastball that breaks in on right-hand batters.
"My meal ticket is that I cut my ball [in]. I flick it and it cuts into the right-hand hitters. It cuts the last second. I break a lot of bats," said Malaska, who never thought that pitching would carry him into the professional ranks, but that hitting would.
After all, he twice was named the top pro prospect in the summer New England Collegiate Bat League in Connecticut primarily because of his robust hitting, and enjoyed a .323 career batting average at Akron, including .342 in his final year.
But then came that fateful Scout Day, when professional baseball scouts came to Akron to watch college players, including Malaska, take batting practice and look for talent.
Needed a pitcher
The camp ran out of pitchers, so Malaska's coach asked him to pitch.
"I was just throwing as hard as I can. No curves," Malaska said. "I did pretty well."
After that, "I started getting letters and phone calls from major league teams."
Then, "I told the coach you need to teach me how to pitch," and he began learning in the spring of his junior year. But then he pitched only 20 innings as a senior before being drafted.
However, lack of experience has proved to be an asset, not a liability.
"Not having the right mechanics has been a blessing in disguise, because I'm flicking my wrist to compensate for not having the [right mechanics]," said Malaska of his breaking fastball.
So, the attention he wasn't able to attract with a powerful bat, he has achieved with a strong left-handed arm.
"They tell me I got drafted so high because I hadn't pitched a lot and my arm was fresh," Malaska said.
But he also cited the big demand for southpaw pitchers, especially those with a special fastball like his.
"If you are a lefty, even if you are average, you can make it," he said.
The son of Darlene and Dennis Malaska, Mark is majoring in sports medicine at Akron, but he has put the completion of his college work on hold while pursuing a professional baseball career.