In the middle of a blowout loss a couple of years ago in a Class-A game, Savannah outfielder Luke Prokopec was called upon to pitch the ninth inning to give his team's depleted bullpen a rest. A year-and-a-half later, Prokopec was accepting the award for the Dodgers' minor league pitcher of the year.
Needless to say, it was a pretty startling development for the Australian who is now pitching with double-A San Antonio.
"I was an up-and-down position player," said Prokopec, who hit .232 with Savannah in 1997. "Then when it came to pitching I had a lot of success. It was strange but enjoyable."
Prokopec made the permanent switch halfway through the 1997 season and ended up with a 3-1 record and a 4.07 ERA in 13 appearances for Savannah. In 1998, the right-hander looked like a veteran. At Class-A San Bernardino, he was 8-5 with a 2.69 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings. He was moved up to San Antonio and in his five starts went 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA.
This year Prokopec is learning what it is like to struggle. He lost five straight starts and his ERA soared over 6.00. His raw talent wasn't blowing hitters away anymore.
Prokopec broke his losing streak with a victory on June 25, in which he had a no-hitter through five innings. Two straight solid outings helped put Prokopec's mind at ease slightly, although his 3-8 record and 5.76 ERA are still disappointing.
"I guess you learn more from struggling than you do from succeeding," said Prokopec, 21.