A Chat with Miles Mikolas: A Deep Sleeper Pitcher for 2016
It’s never too early to start planning for next season. Yes, even with the 2015 Major League Baseball playoffs on the horizon, some people are already beginning to ponder the 2016 campaign and ways they can dominate their opposing managers with crafty and inventive maneuvers that will have them tasting Fantasy glory around this time a year from now.
One such strategy is to start digging deep for sleepers very early on, as September is the most prevalent month in terms of getting a glimpse of the immediate future, with a lot of teams well out of playoff contention just wanting to take a look at what they have in store for the following season. From my own personal experience, that’s how I ended up with Tanner Roark, James Paxton, and David Hale as my top three sleepers entering last year, based on impressive showings in September 2013, and I certainly was immensely successful with two of those three (Hale still has the potential to be good but it’s a shame he never got his fair shake in Atlanta). It’s always crucial to gain a beat on as many players as possible, especially the ones who are well under-the-radar. It’s a concept that can absolutely lead to sustaining consistent Fantasy success.
If you’re really serious about conquering your Fantasy league(s) in the coming year(s), you might also explore the idea of scanning the globe for other talent -- literally. That’s where this particular piece comes in, as I will re-introduce you to a perhaps once-familiar name from the 2014 MLB season. That would be former Texas Rangers starting pitcher Miles Mikolas, who has spent his 2015 slate pitching in Japan, where he has actually become quite a big name these days.
Mikolas was thrust into starting action for the Rangers last season due to their historic number of injuries, ultimately making 10 starts for the club in ’14. Although he only finished 2-5 with a 6.44 ERA, Mikolas was much better than his overall numbers indicate, as in six of those starts he yielded three runs or less. If you take two really bad outings out of the equation, Mikolas actually had very respectable numbers, and ended his stint strong with an eight-shutout-inning performance against the then-contending Seattle Mariners for his final assignment of the campaign.
The 26-year-old right-hander obviously didn’t return to the Rangers this season, instead opting to sign with the Giants -- that is, the Yomiuri Giants of the Central League in Nippon Professional Baseball, who are regarded as the “New York Yankees of Japan.” You might be surprised to learn that not only has Mikolas picked up where he left off from his solid work at the end of his 2014 showing, but he’s been absolutely terrific in his debut season pitching overseas. In fact, Mikolas ranks in the top-five in the Central League in wins (12), ERA (1.95!), and WHIP (0.89!!), even ranked ahead of other talented former Major Leaguers like Hiroki Kuroda, Logan Ondrusek, Kris Johnson, and Guillermo Moscoso. Furthermore, he’s the first import player in Central League history to win 10 straight starts, while also being a large reason why the Giants are battling for first-place as the season winds down.
Clearly, Mikolas appears to be back on track towards returning to the Majors, hopefully as early as next season, based on the dominance he’s exhibited during his tenure pitching in Japan. As a result, Mikolas will be a very intriguing sleeper candidate if he does indeed come back to MLB in ’16. To get a head start on his potential outlook, I talked to the former Rangers hurler concerning a number of interesting topics, ranging from what it’s like pitching in Japan after being in the Major Leagues, the experience of being a MLB pitcher, his unique journey, the time he ate a lizard in the bullpen during a game (yes, that happened), among other thought-provoking questions. Take a look:
Matt Zylbert: Of course, I have to start with an obvious softball because everyone’s journey to the Majors is different and certainly unique. That being said, what was it like when you were first drafted in 2009? And how did it feel when you first arrived in the big leagues with the Padres in 2012?
Miles Mikolas: When I was first drafted by the Padres in ’09, it came as a little of a shock because I had been talking to a number of other teams. I knew the Padres were interested but I hadn’t talked to them very much, as opposed to the other teams’ scouts that will chat you up a bit more. That being said, I was still glad that I had been picked by the Padres. My first experience in the big leagues was great; it was a dream come true being up there and getting that experience. I thought I did okay but I know I did not make the most of it. I did not pitch as well as I wanted to, or should I say, I don’t think that I pitched up to my abilities at the time. As with every experience, I would say there are some regrets for not making the most of my time and making the impression on the coaches and the team that I wanted to, but all in all, it was a great time.
Zylbert: Now at that point, you came up as a reliever and spent your first two seasons at the Major League level in the bullpen, before your one-year stint with the Rangers last season that saw you transition into a starter. What was that like? Do you prefer starting instead of coming in as a reliever?
Mikolas: I prefer to be a starter. I really like the routine and the preparation that can take place more so as a starter. And you generally get to pitch more as a starter, innings-wise. Baseball is a game, and playing it is fun. The more innings I can play, the more fun I can have. That being said, I had a blast becoming a starter again. It had been a few years but I think I made the move quickly at first, then I hit a bit of a learning curve. Unfortunately, I hit that learning curve in the Major Leagues, a rough place to learn. I took my lumps here and there but I really think I learned a great deal in my 10 starts with the Rangers. I feel I learned more in those 10 starts than I did in the prior five years as a reliever.
Zylbert: I thought you really showed some progress as your tenure in Texas wore on, especially towards the end of the campaign when you allowed three runs or less in four of your last five starts, and you had a few seven-inning gems sprinkled within your 2014 body of work as well. One such performance came on the road at hostile Yankee Stadium, as you churned out a real terrific outing, something that can be so difficult for visiting starting pitchers who take the hill in New York because of the wild environment. What was that like shutting down the storied Yankees on their own turf over seven-plus innings and picking up the win there?
Mikolas: It was great, such a great feeling. The fans let you know right away you’re not welcome; I was heckled lightly in the bullpen. Like every pitcher, I try not to let those things get to me; I feel like I am pretty good at drowning out the noise. I was really glad that I got to face [Derek] Jeter before he retired, that was the highlight for me. I also had my fiancé (now wife, Lauren Mikolas) as well as my family in the stands, so it was great to turn out such a good night on the mound in front of them. They are my biggest fans so I know it means a lot to them to see me have a great game. It’s funny that when I told them I will have the game in Yankee Stadium, they all got tickets right away. Everyone wants an excuse to go to New York City for the weekend.
Zylbert: Speaking of the Rangers, I’m sure you’re at least somewhat keeping up with the Major League Baseball season, and what a crazy one it’s been, with several surprise teams set for the playoffs. One such team is your most recent club, who remarkably lead the AL West after having the worst record in the American League a year ago (although everyone should realize that had mostly to do with injuries), and even if they can’t hold onto that lead over the even-more-surprising Houston Astros or Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Rangers look like they’ll at least lock down one of the two Wild Card spots. Do you still have friends on the team that you keep in touch with? Are you communicating with them throughout their current pennant chase?
Mikolas: I have kept in loose contact with a few of the guys over social media and texting. The time difference here makes it hard to have a real conversation. I always say that guys in general are bad at keeping in touch with each other, unlike women who always make time for keeping in touch with friends. I feel like during the season, everyone is so busy that it makes it tough to keep in touch and being on the other side of the planet does not help. I wish I was better at it, and I do plan on getting ahold of some of the guys during the offseason.
Zylbert: It is also worth noting that during your time with the Rangers, you got to play under Ron Washington, one of the more colorful and eccentric baseball managers in recent memory, before he resigned last September. What was your experience like playing for Washington?
Mikolas: I thought he was a great manager and really liked his style a lot. He was very personable with players and I always felt like he was rooting for me and all the players. I only had the pleasure of playing for him for only a couple months, but he goes down as one of my favorite managers.
Zylbert: Now let’s discuss your current stint in Japan. What has the adjustment been like in terms of living and playing out a part of your baseball career in an entirely different region? Has it been difficult having to learn a new language and culture? What about getting along with your Japanese teammates, especially catchers when discussing strategy and pitch signs?
Mikolas: To be honest, it has not been much different except for the change in scenery. The area of Tokyo that we are in is very American-friendly and there has not been much of a need to learn that much Japanese. I have a translator at the field so it’s been easy to talk to the guys in the clubhouse. There are also a good number of guys who can understand some English, so that helps. I have also learned some Japanese, but not as much as I would have liked to. Talking to coaches and the catchers is all done through the interpreter; he is allowed on the field for mound visits and sits next to me in the dugout so I can talk to the catcher between innings. However, I feel like there is definitely a universal baseball lingo and most of the time, they can get what I’m talking about just with hand-signals, and my broken Japanese paired with their broken English.
Zylbert: What about the media in Japan? Do you get extra attention for being a former Major Leaguer? I’m sure you’ve been making headlines at least for ascending the ERA league-leaders in the Central League.
Mikolas: At first, there was a good deal of attention to me because of the fact that I had some Major League time and that I was a foreigner. Since I have been pitching very well, there has been much more press as of late; they are very interested in my day-to-day and the things I do off the field, as well as what I do on it. My wife, Lauren, has also gotten a great deal of attention and has been able to parlay that into many job opportunities. The [Yomiuri] Giants are a big deal and so also by association, I have become one as well. The reporters ask all the basic questions just like the folks back home and will throw in some weird ones as well from time to time. All the questions these days have been whether I will try and go back to MLB or stay in Japan. We have been in the paper for attending sumo matches and other random things; we actually find it quite amusing at times.
Zylbert: Additionally, do you also hold a special bond with other former Major League players that are also playing in Japan this season? For instance, I noticed a few other ones on the Yomiuri Giants roster in Juan Francisco, Scott Mathieson, and [fellow former Ranger] Aaron Poreda.
Mikolas: I would say the bond we have is more based on the fact that we all speak English, and we all do enjoy sharing stories as well.
Zylbert: Lastly, and you had to think this question was coming. In the early days of your career, you were nicknamed “The Lizard King” for that time you, well, ate a live lizard in the bullpen during a 2011 Arizona Fall League game. Care to explain what that was like and how that came about?
Mikolas: The funny thing is that I am actually a very picky eater. Both my mom and my wife can attest to that. The whole lizard thing came on a bet. I had caught the lizard and was trying to get other guys to eat it and before I knew it, the tables had turned. Not being one to back down from a challenge, or $250, I decided to give it a try. It’s a funny story and something that follows me from place to place, but I hope to be known for my pitching rather than my diet in the future.
Zylbert: Miles, I would say with confidence that you will indeed be known significantly more for your pitching than anything else, just from watching you a handful of times last year out of your 10 starts with the Rangers, especially that dandy of a pitcher’s duel you had with another favorite pitcher of mine, Roenis Elias. Anyway, I wish you best of luck and continued success in the final days of the season in Japan, and I can’t wait to hopefully see you back in MLB in 2016!
Special thank you to Miles’ wife, Lauren Mikolas, for helping make this interview possible. And congratulations to Mrs. Mikolas on her new gig as an Octagon Girl for UFC! She also has her own blog, www.fearlesscharm.com, and can be reached on Twitter @ FearlessCharm and Instagram @laurenmikolas. Be sure to stay tuned for her lifestyle book due out in February!
Miles Mikolas Photo Credit: Arturo Pardivila
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