May 24, 2019
Jack Kochanowicz was sitting at home on the living room couch one spring Friday night in 2016 when the impulse hit him. 'Why not?', Kochanowicz thought to himself. So, he reached for his iPad and sent a direct message to Houston Banditos’ baseball coach Ray DeLeon, along with some video of himself throwing.
The Banditos are one of the elite select baseball clubs in the country. They dress in all black and their mere presence is intimidating to opposing teams. It’s very rare that they cull kids from the Northeast that are able to play for them, let alone an unknown, which Kochanowicz was at the time, from someplace called Bala Cynwyd, PA.
Kochanowicz described himself to DeLeon as a 6-foot-4, 175-pound freshman pitcher at Harriton High School with an 86 mph-plus fastball. Within 30 minutes, DeLeon responded, “We’d love to have you.”
That’s what launched it.
Two weeks from now, sometime during the span of Monday, June 3, through Wednesday, June 5, the towering Kochanowicz, now 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, with a 96 mph-plus fastball and committed to the University of Virginia, will most probably get a call from a Major League Baseball team that chose him in MLB’s First-Year Player Draft.
It’s been a whirlwind journey from acting on a whim to where Kochanowicz is today, considering one of the ideal high school pitching prospects in this year’s draft.
Kochanowicz laughs when recalling what led to this.
“I wanted a new challenge,” Kochanowicz remembered. “I wanted to test myself against the best, and it was always a dream of mine to play for the Banditos. What could it hurt, I thought?
“Coach DeLeon got back to me within a half-an-hour, and he gave me the OK.”
There was just one problem—a big glitch.
“My parents didn’t know anything,” said Kochanowicz, laughing. “My parents (Keith and Colleen) were out having dinner. When they got home, I told them I was going to Georgia with the Houston Banditos.”
It was a where-what moment for Keith.
“I chewed on it for a moment for a day, but Jack wanted the challenge and I wasn’t about to get in the way,” Keith said. “At first, I didn’t even want to talk to the coach. I’m a father and you’re naturally protective of your children.
“Since then, I’ve thanked Coach DeLeon hundreds of times.”
In Jack’s first game in Bandito black, he pitched. The Banditos play by a mantra, “If you hit, you don’t sit,” which doesn’t necessarily apply to a pitcher, so it’s more like, “If you don’t perform, you don’t play.”
Jack stepped into a heated crucible, coming on in relief inheriting a runner on third. Kochanowicz struck out the side.
DeLeon found out something fast about Kochanowicz and the lanky kid from the baseball hotbed of Pennsylvania found something about himself: That he can perform against the best.
A few months later, Kochanowicz was offered a baseball scholarship to Virginia before throwing a pitch his sophomore year and readily accepted.
Kochanowicz, who will graduate Harriton with a 3.0 GPA and a 1,200 SAT score, finds himself in a win-win place.
This past season, Kochanowicz went 6-0, with 79 strikeouts over 45 innings pitched, walking 11 and surrendering 10 hits. His 10-strikeout, two-hit performance propelled the Rams to an 8-1 win at Penncrest on Monday in the PIAA District 1 5A playoffs, avenging an earlier loss to the Lions.
Behind the backstop was a hoard of radar guns and stop watches, carried by over 20 Major League scouts. Everything Kochanowicz did fell under a microscope—and he held up exceptionally well.
“I think the national tournaments and the pressure of those situations have helped me deal with the scouts,” Kochanowicz said. “I’m used to it. I give the scouts the same answers. I'm willing to listen to everything.
“I’m committed to Virginia. It has to be a very good offer (from an MLB team). Either way, it’s a win-win for me and my family.”
Harriton coach Scott Kurzinski doesn’t hesitate when he calls Kochanowicz “the real deal,” and in more ways than one. Kochanowicz didn’t have to pitch this season for Harriton. He’s set for Virginia, there is a strong likelihood that he’ll be drafted.
He could have easily bypassed his senior year without anyone questioning why, considering his future.
“That’s just not Jack,” Kurzinski said. “He’s made great strides these last four years. Jack throws a fastball, a curveball and a change-up. With is overpowering fastball, he’s developed some movement on that.
“From last year to this year, he’s had scouts all over the place. His head being screwed on straight and tight, and nothing affects him when he’s getting squeezed by umpires sometimes, he goes out and throws the next pitch.”
Character is a Kochanowicz strength.
“In major college football, the star players don’t play in major bowl games, Jack isn’t like that,” Kurzinski said. “I wanted to take him out (against Penncrest). Jack was like, ‘No, I want to hit.’”
That choice also struck the opposing bench and longtime Penncrest coach Steve Smith. Kochanowicz reminds Smith of Downingtown’s Scott Tyler, who was chosen in the second round by the Minnesota Twins in the 2001 draft. Tyler was 6-foot-4, 265 pounds.
“Jack is a big, tall kid like Scott who throws hard and pounds the strike zone,” Smith said. “He’ll fill that big body out more, and in my opinion, we’ll see him on TV in four or five years.
“I like how Jack competes. The kid has been nothing but classy. The kid easily could have bagged it and not pitched for his team this year. There were 25 scouts watching that kid today and he chose to stay on the mound throwing over 90 pitches.
“He risked himself for his teammates. He wanted to show his teammates that they mattered to him. You don’t get that too often sometimes from a star player.”
He’s been invited to pre-draft workouts by the Phillies, San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs. Over the winter, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians worked him out. The New York Mets have also shown considerable interest.
“It’s so hard to say what’s going to happen,” Kochanowicz said. “My main goal is to be a major league baseball player, either way I go. There are no bad options. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
“I went to my prom (in a tux that had to be specially fitted for him). My biggest priority is enjoying my senior year. The college experience is a big decision for me. I’ve signed my letter of intent and there will be a lot to think about.”
That began sitting on a couch on a spring Friday night.
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