Minor League Report: Mike Stodolka
Converted first baseman making up for lost time
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Mike Stodolka, a first-round pitcher in 2000, has turned into Mike Stodolka, a first baseman in 2008. He's taken to the transformation exceptionally well."I'm loving it, I'm having a good time," he said. "I love being out there playing every day." Stodolka is in the Royals' Major League camp, invited as a Minor League player for the second time in his career. The first invitation came in 2002 when he was a highly touted kid pitcher, lodged in the dormitory at the old training facility at Baseball City, Fla. A dorm with a pool. Such luxury. "You didn't want to go in that pool, though. There were frogs swimming around in that pool," he said, laughing. Now Stodolka is in a large pool of first basemen in the Royals' Arizona camp, virtually lost in the splash accorded Billy Butler, Ross Gload, Ryan Shealy and Mark Teahen. Even so, you'll catch an eyeful of No. 74 once in a while. He's been a replacement in four games and has two hits, including a double, in seven at-bats with two RBIs. His chances of making the big club are nil and there's not even any certainty where he'll be in the Minors because it's possible that Shealy will be at first base for Triple-A Omaha. Just in case, the Royals plan to give Stodolka some work in the outfield later this spring. Stodolka spent all last season in Double-A, batting .291 with 12 home runs and 59 RBIs for Wichita. Keep in mind this is just Stodolka's third year as a first baseman. A left-handed thrower and batter, he spent six seasons pitching before his arm told him "no more." First his shoulder gave him trouble, then he had Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2003. "My arm just never got back to where it was when I signed," he said. "It was always one thing after another. Even when I did feel healthy, the velocity was never there." Stodolka made one last try in 2005 when he started 24 times for Wichita. He had a 4-11 record, a 5.92 ERA and a lot of misery. "That whole year in Wichita, I was healthy but I was sore. It was painful to throw," he said. "At the time Allard [Baird, general manager] came to me and said, 'We can either release you or trade you and you can go on your pitching ways. Or, if you want, you can try hitting.' And, at that point, my arm hurt so much that year that I didn't want to pitch anymore." Stodolka could hit, though. He'd been recruited by UCLA out of Centennial High at Corona, Calif., because of the 18 home runs -- a state record -- he'd banged in 2000. The Royals, though, were more interested in his senior pitching record of 10-0 with a 0.67 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 52 innings. The made him the nation's No. 4 overall Draft pick and signed him for $2.5 million.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.