HICKORY, N.C. — A career in baseball implies a nomadic existence and for 2012 Port Angeles High School grad Cole Uvila his journey continues in the south this season, near where he played baseball collegiately at Georgia Gwinnett.
For this most recent cross-country jaunt, Uvila was able to avoid the Buick sedan utilized on previous trips back-and-forth from the West Coast. And even at his listed height of 6-foot-4, the lanky Uvila could enjoy the complimentary airplane seat courtesy of the Texas Rangers organization.
A relief pitcher, Uvila has been assigned to the Rangers’ full-season Class A-affiliate Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League.
“Getting settled in,” Uvila said last week. “We moved into a new apartment today and are headed up to Lakewood, New Jersey to play the Phillies affiliate for Opening Day.”
Despite an off-season engagement to longtime girlfriend Kayla Andrus, Uvila won’t be living with her or their pup Lola, who recently turned three, this season, anyway.
“I’m rooming with Hans Crouse and Sean Chandler, two guys who I played with in Spokane,” Uvila said.
Uvila and his Crawdads teammates will roam across much of the southeastern part of the country this spring and summer playing games against teams in both Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and even New Jersey where they opened the season with a four-game set against the Lakewood Blue Claws last week.
Uvila earned a save in his first outing of the season for Hickory, pitching two innings and striking out a pair of batters in the Crawdads’ 7-1 win over the Blue Claws on April 5.
And Uvila threw three innings of one-hit relief Tuesday to earn the win in the Crawdad’s 3-1 win in 10 innings against the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
Uvila found success in his debut season in the minors with Spokane of the short-season Northwest League after being drafted in the 40th and final round of the Major League Baseball Draft in 2018. He posted a 1.42 ERA in 31.2 innings pitched in 19 appearances for the Indians, compiling a 48-to-15 strikeout to walk ratio and a 0.88 walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP). Opposing batters hit just .127 against him.
In the postseason, Uvila posted a 0.00 ERA in 4.1 innings over two appearances with two holds as the Indians advanced to the league’s championship series.
Soon after the series wrapped up, Uvila was headed south to participate in “instructs,” the Arizona Instructional League, an extended mini-camp that allows just starting their pro careers at the lower levels of their team’s system — to get some work in before calling it a year.
In Uvila’s case he worked to further hone his secondary pitch, a slider.
“We are put in development groups in instructs and I was in the slider/curveball-focused group,” Uvila said. “They gave me a list of things to work on and we met with the team nutritionist, strength and pitching coaches. They devise a weight room plan, a nutrition plan and a pitching plan of things to work on. And they check in on you once every week or two.”
The highlight came when the Rangers instructional team and Uvila got to play their San Diego Padres counterparts in the Padres’ major league stadium.
“That was in PetCo [Park] and there was about 10,000 people in the stands there,” Uvila said.
Returning back to the northwest, Uvila trained and worked at Driveline Baseball, continuing to develop his slider.
Texas has a partnership with Driveline and Uvila said the organization sent 10 guys up to participate in a pitch design camp.
“We were focused on making pitches that we already have been working on work even better and I came a long way with the slider,” Uvila said.
“In Spokane I threw about 80 percent fastballs, and will still be near that [with Hickory], but as I move up and the hitters become better and more patient I need something to keep them off-balance.”
Uvila proposed to Andrus along the Tacoma waterfront where they enjoyed their first date and began his first spring training as a pro.
“I reported to Surprise, Arizona, on March 3,” Uvila said.
“I threw about five outings in March and got assigned to the Hickory Crawdads last Thursday. It all happened pretty fast.”
Unlike his friend and fellow Texas Rangers draftee Easton Napiontek, Uvila wasn’t able to pick up the ping-pong paddles during off time in spring training.
“They didn’t have the pingpong table,” Uvila said. “There were probably 200 to 250 guys in the clubhouse, so not much room for activities.”
Uvila said he does play online poker in his downtime.
“Normally, I have a laptop and I’m grinding the table,” he said.
He’s the oldest player on the Crawdads’ roster at 25.
“It’s unique because it was my first spring training,” Uvila said.
“Almost all the bullpen arms in Hickory, this is their first time playing [minor league ball] out of Arizona. “I’m definitely the oldest pitcher on the staff. Guys naturally give you more respect, they listen. And we have a good group of guys here, lots of talented teammates.”
Uvila could see some future Seattle Mariners’ prospects in the batter’s box as division foe West Virginia Power is an M’s affiliate and will carry outfield prospects Jarred Kelenic (part of the Robinson Cano deal with the New York Mets) and Julio Rodriguez.
And like most baseball players (and fans), he’s waiting for the temperature to rise.
“We played a local D2 school in an exhibition [April 1] and it was 35 degrees,” Uvila said.
“I was telling my dad that all this playing in Georgia [in college] and in the Spokane summer have me spoiled.”
All Uvila will need to do is to wait a month or two and temperatures will be on par with his fastball — in the 90s.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]