First article in a series of interviews with Major League Baseball Draft prospects.
College sports fans don’t necessarily recognize the University of Louisville as a baseball school, but over the last 13 seasons they have been one of the top programs across the country. Since 2002, the Cardinals have made eight NCAA Tournament appearances and three trips to the College World Series (2007, 2013, 2014).
Once again the expectations are high for the Cardinals as the 2015 baseball season quickly approaches, and one player generating a great deal of buzz is right-handed power pitcher, Kyle Funkhouser.
The junior hurler is coming off of an incredible season, finishing 13-3 with a 1.94 earned run average and 122 strikeouts during an All-American season as Louisville’s ace.
Dominating the opposition is all Funkhouser has known, even dating back to his time growing up in Oak Forest, Ill. – a suburb 24 miles south of downtown Chicago.
In his senior year of high school he was named the Illinois Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year after going 11-2 with a microscopic 0.65 ERA and 132 strikeouts.
Despite his phenomenal senior year and high school career in general, he wasn’t highly recruited.
“I wouldn’t say I was highly recruited,” Funkhouser said. “I was recruited by a few bigger schools, but I kind of had to turn them down due to financial reasons.”
He also wasn’t selected in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft following his senior season. However, he knew he was likely going to go to college regardless of whatever happened in the draft.
“Me and my family just sat down and had a talked about the draft,” Funkhouser said. “We kind of just decided ‘Hey if I get drafted cool, but I am probably going to go to college no matter what.’”
Ignored by the MLB draft, Funkhouser maintained his focus and a positive attitude, as he was excited to join a program on the rise that had good coaches and facilities.
Upon completion of his first two seasons with the Cardinals, the Louisville ace developed into one of the top college arms, and is expected to go in the top 10 in June’s MLB Draft.
He is currently ranked by MLB.com as the sixth best draft prospect, and he has made it known that his two goals are winning a National Championship and being selected No. 1 by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“Obviously, my goal is to win National Championship – that is the main goal,” Funkhouser said. “In a perfect world – we win the National Championship and I get drafted first overall.
“I’m not trying to worry too much about the draft. I’d rather win a National Championship than get drafted first overall. It would be nice to obviously go to Omaha for the third year, but also I want to get drafted high.
“I’m not going to deny that.”
Funkhouser’s 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame is built for durability, and he possesses a four-pitch arsenal, that is headlined by his excellent 92-96 mph fastball.
“I like being aggressive,” Funkhouser said. “I like to throw a lot of fastballs. I like to attack the strike zone. I like making guys hit me.”
He also throws a slider, changeup and curveball, with his best off-speed pitch being his slider. However, his command and consistency came into question last season when he struggled to throw his secondary pitches for strikes, while also walking 65 batters in 120.1 innings.
This offseason he has devoted a lot of time to working on improving his command and consistency.
“The biggest thing I worked on this offseason was command of my breaking pitches and my off-speed stuff,” Funkhouser said. “I felt last year I had good command of my fastball pretty much the entire year, but the command of the breaking stuff and off-speed wasn’t up to par.”
If Funkhouser can demonstrate that he has better control over his secondary pitches, there is no question he will be a top 10 pick and in the running to be the No. 1 selection in this year’s draft.
Although it is his goal to be selected No. 1 in the draft, he wouldn’t mind seeing his favorite team, the Chicago White Sox, selecting him with the No. 8 pick.
“Growing up in Chicago, being a White Sox fan, going through the farm system and hopefully making it to the big leagues, basically playing at home, that would be pretty cool,” Funkhouser said. “If I don’t get drafted by the White Sox, I won’t be mad, but it would be something special.”
Funkhouser has excellent stuff, a great work ethic and an outstanding drive to win – three great qualities for a potential top of the rotation pitcher.
Louisville is lucky to have him leading their pitching staff, as they attempt to return to the College World Series for the third consecutive season, and someday one MLB franchise will be thankful that he is in their rotation.
(Video courtesy of FanGraphs)