High School | General | 3/26/2010

Lala Maturing into 95 mph Closer

Jim Ecker        
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Patrick Lala considers himself a late bloomer. His self-evaluation might be a little harsh, considering he was a Class 3A all-state pick at Marion (Iowa) High School as a senior in 2008, but he has a point.

Lala was 6-foot-2, but kind of skinny as a high school senior. “I weighed like a buck-60,” he said.

Lala was a shortstop and a pitcher at Marion, with a fastball in the mid-80s. Now he’s strictly a relief pitcher at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, and his fastball has been clocked at 95. And he doesn’t weigh a buck-60 anymore.

He weighs 195 now, with more room to grow. He hit the weights and got stronger. A lot stronger.

Lala, 19, has a scholarship to play at the University of Iowa next year, if he wants, but Perfect Game USA considers him the No.1 junior college prospect in Iowa and the pro scouts are paying attention. He uncorked a 95 mph fastball for a couple of pro scouts at a private indoor workout this winter, and he figures “10 or 11” teams have given him questionnaires to fill out, with more appointments with major league teams scheduled this spring.

Lala seemed a bit surprised when he heard about being the No.1 JUCO prospect in the state. “It’s a great honor to have that, just to know your hard work is paying off,” he said.

Lala has appeared in six games for Kirkwood this season with a 1.35 ERA and two saves. He’s allowed only one earned run in 6 2/3 innings with 11 strikeouts, and opponents are hitting just .167 against him. If the game’s on the line, he gets the ball.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s the best feeling ever.”

There is a drawback to being the closer, however. Lala played all the time in high school, either at shortstop or on the mound, and he played third base for Kirkwood last season as a freshman in addition to pitching. Now he’s strictly the closer.

“It’s kind of boring,’’ he confessed, “just sitting there the whole game, because I’m kind of a hyper kid.”

He’d rather play the whole game.

“It kind of takes away a little bit of your confidence,” he said. “But I think I’ve started to grow up and realize, what I’m going to do when I go there (Iowa) is pitch. So I think I’ve really started to focus on that. I think that’s kind of helped with the miles per hour and the rotation on the breaking balls and stuff like that. So I think that’s actually helped me, not being a position player.”

Lala pitched for the Madison (Wis.) Mallards in the Northwoods League last summer, after his freshman campaign at Kirkwood. He compiled a 2.53 ERA in 10 2/3 innings for the Mallards, with 13 strikeouts.

“It was kind of an eye-opener experience,” he said. “You go up there and every player you face is a D-1 player.”

Those D-I players hit only .205 against him, which showed he has D-1 stuff.

Lala has been working on his command and control, especially now that he’s a full-time pitcher. He walked six batters and hit a pair during his 10 2/3 innings in the Northwoods League, and he’s walked five batters and plunked three others during his 6 2/3 innings at Kirkwood this season.

He calls it “getting the kinks out,” and is working on throwing more strikes. He’s also trying to develop a changeup, to complement his fastball, curve and slider.

Overall, Lala likes the way his career is developing.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “It’s starting to go on its way up, and I think it’s going to continue to go up as I get older and get better and keep working hard.”

He’s eligible for the draft this June and might sign if he finds the right situation. “I’m pretty sure I’d consider it and I’d talk to the guys (pro scouts) and we’d go from there,” he said.

If not, he’ll pitch for the Iowa Hawkeyes next year. “Iowa is a great option,” he said.

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