When Robert Klinchock was asked in an interview before the start of his season what his plans after college were, baseball was the only profession he wanted to discuss.
Four months later, that goal has become a reality for the Shenandoah University pitcher.
The Detroit Tigers selected the left-hander in the 35th round of the First-Year Player Draft on Wednesday. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound native of Mt. Lebanon, Pa., recently completed his senior season for SU, going 7-6 with a 4.27 ERA, 71 strikeouts, and 33 walks in 97 innings in 14 starts. In a phone interview, Klinchock said the Tigers will likely have him pitch out of the bullpen.
Klinchock missed the call from Tigers scout Matt Zmuda about his selection because he was busy with his job in Pittsburgh at Chartiers Country Club, where his father Joe works as a golf pro. But his father and mother Mary Anne eventually tracked him down after seeing the selection online while they were in an office at the club.
“When [they told me], I was kind of speechless,” Klinchock said. “I didn’t really believe that it happened until I saw my mom and dad crying. Then we all hugged and started crying a little bit. It was a mixture of joy, speechlessness, and crying, basically.
“I definitely worked really hard over these four years, and I’m just glad that work paid off for me.”
SU head coach Kevin Anderson was filled with pride as he spoke about Klinchock a couple of hours earlier Wednesday night.
“I could not be more excited for an outstanding young man,” Anderson said in a phone interview. “It’s really gratifying as a coach to hopefully have played a small part in the young man’s success. He came to us out of the Pittsburgh area as a first baseman/pitcher, and he just worked and worked and worked.
“This is every little kid’s dream. Any little kid that’s played Little League baseball dreams of the opportunity that’s he’s getting, and that he deserves.”
Klinchock — selected 1,042nd overall — will report to the Tigers spring training home in Lakeland, Fla., for assignment to one of their minor league affiliates. Klinchock said he does not know when he will report. The Tigers have two Gulf Coast League Rookie teams in Florida and a short season Class A team, the Connecticut Tigers.
Klinchock joins the Morse brothers as Shenandoah MLB draftees. Phil was selected in the 16th round of the 40-round draft in 2016 by the Washington Nationals, while Colin was picked in the 26th round by the Nationals last year. Phil Morse pitched three years in the minors (advancing to Class A Hagerstown) before being released on March 22, while Colin Morse advanced to Class A short season Auburn in his one minor league season. He was released on March 27.
Coming into his senior year the lowest ERA Klinchock had posted over a full season for SU was the 5.82 mark he had as a junior. But Anderson said interest in Klinchock picked up over the last six weeks the 2019 season, which ended with the Hornets’ loss to Johns Hopkins on May 25 in the NCAA Super Regionals.
“Guys put things together at different stages of their career,” Anderson said. “Rob, who is a tireless worker, never gave up. When he put things together, he put it together. He threw back-to-back shutouts in our conference tournament. The last six weeks of the season, he was as good as anybody in the country. Fortunately, some teams took interest and came and saw him pitch.”
After giving up four earned runs and seven hits in five innings against Emory & Henry in his third start of the season on March 10, Klinchock’s next nine starts from March 16 to May 9 featured six in which he pitched at least seven innings and gave up two runs or less. The last three outings of that nine-start stretch were each complete games, highlighted by the shutouts of Hampden-Sydney (seven hits, three walks, four strikeouts) and Roanoke (four hits, two walks, nine strikeouts) in the ODAC Tournament, which finished on May 11.
Klinchock said Zmuda contacted him a couple of days after the completion of the ODAC Tournament. He said the Tigers were the only team that reached out to him to talk. Zmuda then watched him pitch in New Jersey against Kean University in the Union (N.J.) Regional and also watched video clips of him against Johns Hopkins.
Anderson said Klinchock throws a four-seam fastball that sits in the upper-80s and reaches as high as 91 mph, a two-seam fastball with good movement, a slider that goes “west to east” and a changeup that goes “east to west.”
“He really figured things out with arm speed and mechanics,” added Anderson. “He absolutely dominated games.”
Klinchock gave Anderson, who handles the pitchers, a lot of credit for helping him succeed.
“I feel like my stuff got a lot better,” Klinchock said. “I’ve been fine-tuning my stuff each year, and it all kind of came together. I was locating pitches better this year, and there was definitely an increase in velocity that helped me. Last year I was probably 85-88 [mph] and this year I was mostly 87-89 and touching 90 more.”
Klinchock said his high inning total this year is one of the reasons why the Tigers will likely use him in relief. Klinchock said he came out of the bullpen as a freshman and sophomore at SU as well as with his summer league team, the Herndon Braves of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in 2016 and 2017, so he doesn’t anticipate pitching in relief will be a tough transition.
As evidenced by the careers of the Morse brothers, it’s not easy carving out a career in the Major Leagues. But it’s not easy for someone to put themselves in a position to do so, and Klinchock has with his dedication to his craft.
“Bob’s best days are ahead of him,” Anderson said. “Every intangible — heart, guts, work ethic — he’s got. He was a huge part of our success this year. He was a team captain, he was a leader of the pitching staff. Our young guys looked up to him.
“I’m elated Detroit took him. All you can ask for is an opportunity, and he has a legit opportunity.”