Lonnie Kauppila regains form, moves up in minors

Playing minor league baseball for the Everett AquaSox, a class-A short season affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, last season, Lonnie Kauppila was struggling and the game wasn't much fun.

"When your batting average is in the high ones and low twos, it's not fun at all," said Kauppila, who played two seasons at Crescenta Valley High before transferring to Burbank and graduating in 2010. "It can get frustrating when you're not hitting and not playing like you think that you can. It's really tough."

In 27 games for the AquaSox of the Northwest League North League, Kauppila batted .182 (20 for 110) with six runs batted in, seven runs scored and on-base percentage of .244.

Undaunted, Kauppila entered the 2014 season with promise — and a new way of approaching hitting and a newfound outlook on baseball.

"One day I just decided that I kinda had to relax more at the plate and stop worrying so much about the numbers," Kauppila, 22, said. "After that I went out there and, honestly, just tried to have as much fun as I could.

"It's obviously not fun when you're struggling at the plate, but as serious as it is, you try and not take it too much to heart. It's just a game when it comes down to it and you have to fun with it. Once I did that and I started relaxing and just having fun with my teammates, that's when I started to pick it up and do a little better."

That outlook has paid dividends for Kauppila so far this season.

He began the campaign in Iowa with the Clinton LumberKings, a class-A team in the Midwest League. In 50 games, he hit .281 (45 for 160) with nine doubles, 13 RBI, 18 runs scored and a .335 on-base percentage.

"I started off the season pretty well, but I really started picking it up after the All-Star break," Kauppila said. "And that's when it began to click for me and I've been going pretty well ever since."

His success with Clinton earned Kauppila a promotion to the High Desert Mavericks, a class-A advanced team in Adelanto that plays in the California League South. Since getting to the club less than two weeks ago, the infielder has adapted nicely. Prior to Tuesday's league game against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the 6-foot-1 Kauppila had a .286 (six for 21) batting average with four runs scored, two RBI and three walks in six games.

"It's just nice to be in California close to home," said Kauppila, who has played second base, shortstop and third base this season. "At any level it's still baseball, it's just the pitchers tend to throw a lot harder and they have more control when you move up. But I've been seeing the ball real well lately and that's helped me."

High Desert Manager Eddie Menchaca said he's been pleased with Kauppila's play since he joined the club.

"I think he's just a real versatile player, someone who can play some second, some short, some third base," Menchaca said. "At the plate he really battles and he's one of the guys who we call a grinder. He will go up there and make the most of his at-bats."

Heading into Tuesday's game, the Mavericks (20-23) were in fourth place, 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Lancaster JetHawks.

Kauppila was drafted out of Burbank in the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Players Draft. He was taken in the 44th round — 1,325 overall — by the Oakland Athletics.

He went on to play at Stanford for three years. In his final season for the Cardinal in 2013, Kauppila batted .271 (36 for 133) with 20 runs scored, 16 RBI, six doubles and 18 walks. In addition, he started 44 of 48 games in the infield and had a .957 fielding percentage as a junior.

He was then scooped up by the Mariners with the 477th overall pick in the 16th round of the 2013 draft. And now, after a rookie season of struggles, Kauppila is finding his way as a pro and moving up the Mariners' farm system.



Follow Jeff Tully on Twitter: @jefftsports.

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