Southpaw set for success in Brooklyn

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Southpaw pitcher Thomas Szapucki was promoted to the Cyclones late last month, and after a dominant start to the season in the Appalachian League, the 2015 fifth-round pick is determined to prove he’s just getting started.

Szapucki has a 1–2 record on the mound after 17-and-two-thirds innings in his first three starts with Brooklyn, but he also boasts a 1.02 earned run average. In his first two starts, he didn’t allow a single earned run. That’s garnered plenty of attention.

“Boy, the kid Szapucki is fun to watch,” Tom Gamboa said. “My God.”

Szapucki — a New Jersey native whose family moved to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., when he was 10 years old — opted to turn pro after being selected by the Mets in 2015, turning down a scholarship offer to the University of Florida.

The choice paid off, and Szapucki has been nothing short of dominant this year — despite a less-than-ideal stat line last season. He opened the year with a 0.62 earned run average and 47 strikeouts — both Appalachian League bests — in 29 innings with Kingsport before getting the call up.

The focus now is simple — get even better.

When Kyle Regnault came to Brooklyn for a rehab assignment earlier this summer, Cyclones pitching coach Billy Bryk Jr. told Szapucki to hang around the pitcher who had already competed at a higher level.

“He took that to the next stage, and he really picked his brain while he was here,” Bryk Jr. said.

Szapucki’s newfound relationship with Regnault has become a non-stop teaching lesson for the young pitcher and he’s enjoying every moment of it.

“I really learned a lot for pro ball,” Szapucki said. “It’s got me to learn the game a lot better. I try to pick the minds of the higher level guys as much as I can and learn.”

Szapucki has been working on his secondary pitches — and his changeup in particular — looking to expand his game as he continues to climb the minor-league ladder.

“I’ve gotten it really good,” Szapucki said. “I feel confident in that pitch now.”

But Bryk Jr. has to keep that confidence in check, he said.

“He comes in smiling and he goes, ‘That was a filthy change-up.’ I go, ‘Yup. Yes it was.’ At the same time I had to make sure to humble him and make sure that he knows that his numero uno is his fastball.”

He may be expanding his pitching arsenal, but, make no mistake about it, the fastball is Szapucki’s bread and butter. He racked up 11 strikeouts in his mot recent start at Tri-City, no-hitting the ValleyCats in the first five innings on Aug. 6.

“I can’t teach you that part, but the rest I can teach,” Bryk Jr. said. “Thanks to God for giving him that lightning bolt for an arm but also for his upbringing. He’s a great kid on and off the field.”

The sky is the limit for the southpaw, but right now, the Cyclones coaching staff is simply happy Szapucki is in Brooklyn.

“For a young kid, he gets right after it,” Gamboa said. “He’s got a good future ahead of him. I’m glad he’s here.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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