Kuznetsov trying to learn game and language

A year ago, Anton Kuznetsov spoke no English. He spoke to his coaches through Google Translator to try and figure out what the coaches wanted from him.

At the same time, the Philadelphia Phillies heaped information on him as he was trying to learn baseball in a new country as a 19-year-old. He was young in the game and had played at the highest level of Russian baseball at just 14.

“I tried to learn and try to understand as good as I can,” Kuznetsov said without a translator on Crosscutters Media Day last week. “It was still tough for what I understand and what I need. Coaches would talk into translator and it would explain it to me in Russian.”

The Phillies weren’t sure what to expect of Kuznetsov when he arrived in Florida last spring, just shy of his 19th birthday. Nobody in the Phillies had seen him pitch. He was given a $10,000 signing bonus based on a report from an independent contractor scout Phillies international scouting director Sal Agostinelli has in Europe, according to an MLB.com article.

But what he did in his first season of professional baseball was eye-opening. He posted a 0.36 ERA in 15 appearances for the GCL Phillies, 14 of which came out of the bullpen. His first 14 appearances of the season were scoreless and he allowed just 16 hits in 25 1/3 innings and was named to the GCL All-Star team.

“I wouldn’t say his fastball will light up the radar gun, but his pitching ability does,” Crosscutters pitching coach Hector Berrios said. “He can throw his fastball where he wants to and he can mix it with his change-up and curveball.”

Kuznetsov made his Cutters debut Saturday night in a wild 11-inning loss to State College. He faced a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam with the Cutters holding a two-run lead in the bottom of the 10th inning.

He actually pitched pretty well to limit the Spikes to just the two runs in the 10th inning, and the winning run scored in the 11th on an error. He took just the second loss of his career, but showcased what has made him an interesting prospect for the Phillies.

He put his fastball where he wanted to. He baffled hitters with a nasty change-up. His biggest asset is his ability to throw the ball where he wants it.

“Now, if he does that and we can increase his velocity,” Berrios said, “then he puts himself on the radar and we’re really looking forward to the future.”

Kuznetsov has vastly improved his English over the last year and no longer needs a translator, whether made by Google or just another person, to help him speak the language. He’s even picked up a little Spanish along the way.

His conversations with coaches and catchers are easier.

“I don’t try and learn Spanish, but in my brain, it stays there,” Kuznetsov said. “But you need to know English to know what’s going around you in all situations around here.”

Berrios said Kuznetsov just has a knack for the game. He has an understanding for the nuances of the game despite growing up in Russia where the game isn’t nearly as popular as it is in the United States.

But Kuznetsov has been playing since he was about 7-years-old when a teacher suggested to his parents that he try the sport. He fell in love with it from Day 1 and has turned it into a professional career.

“I felt like I could do this,” Kuznetsov said. “You just need to have a dream and then work on your dream. I think I’m a better pitcher now than I was, but I just love baseball.”