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A former Colonel is steadily climbing the pro baseball ranks.
Dean Kiekhefer is approaching the end of his first season with the Memphis Redbirds, the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Kiekhefer, who was promoted from Double-A Springfield earlier this season, has pitched 32 games this season for Memphis as of Monday.
The left-handed relief pitcher owns a 2-3 record with a 2.54 ERA. He’s struck out 41 batters in 46 innings while pitching a primarily middle relief role.
Kiekhefer, a former Oldham County star who went on to pitch for the University of Louisville, has risen farther than his 36th round draft selection in 2010 might have suggested he would have.
“If you talk to a lot of baseball people, being a 36th rounder, they wouldn’t expect me to make it this high,” Kiekhefer said Monday. “That just goes to show you the work the staff puts in with this organization.
“They really do believe in every player they take and give them the time and work with them and want them to get to the highest level possible.”
Kiekhefer was an ace during his time at OC. He went 7-0 during his senior campaign of 2007, tallying 99 strikeouts and posting a state-best 0.28 ERA. Kiekhefer also hit .500, stole 24 bases, scored 37 runs and knocked in 33 runs while playing as an outfielder.
He was drafted in the 37th round by Cleveland out of high school, but chose to play at U of L instead.
Kiekhefer was a weekend starter for much of his time with U of L. But the St. Louis organization decided to utilize him as a reliever upon drafting him.
“I think it suits me well,” Kiekhefer said of his role in the bullpen. “I’ve been able to succeed at it.”
Kiekhefer’s fastball is clocked in the high 80’s. He also throws a slider and changeup.
Kiekhefer has found success by tweaking his delivery. A few years ago his coaches worked with him on dropping his arm angle in certain situations.
Kiekhefer typically pitches to right-handers with an overhand or three-quarter delivery but will drop to a sidearm angle against lefties.
“Then this year it’s taken off to where I’m able to command both my normal arm slot and then the sidearm slot as well,” he said. “It helps showing hitters different arm angles, the way the pitches move differently.
“…It’s always good to disrupt the hitter’s timing.”
Kiekhefer isn’t a so-called LOOGY (Lefty One Out Guy) who’s used to pitch to just one or two left-handed batters during a relief appearance.
He’s instead showed an ability to pitch for more than one inning and keep the other team off the board in that time.
That includes a performance July 12 when he pitched perfect sixth and seventh innings in a 5-2 Memphis win over New Orleans.
“I’m the guy that doesn’t like to know how hard I was throwing, doesn’t like to know my stats,” Kiekhefer said. “I just want to go out and do my job. I judge my outings by if I threw up zeros, how the hitters reacted to the pitches I threw and everything like that.”
Kiekhefer has stayed in touch with his roots, coming back to U of L and OC to work out during his offseasons.
When back in Buckner, Kiekhefer throws with his high school coach, Scott Gerlach, or some current Colonels.
Playing in Memphis has allowed Kiekhefer’s family and friends to watch his games in person more than if he were playing somewhere farther from home.
He also has his wife, Jacquelyn, with him in Memphis. The two were high school sweethearts, he said, and she’s been a big help to him during his pro career.
“A lot of the guys that are single, it’s tough because they don’t have a wife there that’s doing all the behind-the-scenes work,” Kiekhefer said. “…She does all the hard stuff. I just go to the field and have a dream job.”
Kiekhefer has advanced through minor league baseball as far as a player can, so the obvious next step is the majors.
He’s not currently on St. Louis’ 40-man roster, so a September call-up is probably unlikely.
But in a farm system ranked as the sixth-best in the game by Baseball Prospectus, Kiekhefer said he’s trying his hardest to compete and stand out.
“I’ve just got to stay focused on my daily routine and the process,” he said. “As long as I’m doing that, I’d like to say eventually that I’ll get my chance.
“Whatever happens, I’ll be ready. Who knows, it could be tomorrow or it could be a couple of years down the road.”
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