American Association Daily provides insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier features Wichita Wingnuts outfielder Nick Kaye, who is looking to apply the keys to success on his way back to affiliate ball.
Introducing Nick Kaye
With less than a month until the 2018 American Association season begins, there are a number of players who already expected to be playing baseball. At least 70 percent of the players were released from Major League organizations over the past five months, and either fully expected they would be back on a roster before February rolled around or were in Spring Training only to become a late release.
That is the plight of new Wichita Wingnuts outfielder Nick Kaye, who carries an impressive pedigree, plus he is only 21 years old, yet found himself released by the Texas Rangers organization in January, despite being a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. Now, he joins the Wichita Wingnuts hoping that his stay in the Emerald City will be the key to him getting another shot in affiliate ball.
Living Up to the Name
That Nick Kaye opted to become a professional baseball player is not a surprise. He grew up admiring his father, who had been a catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. Jeff Kaye played four seasons in professional ball, reaching AA-Reading in 1988.
The game was a big part of his father’s life, so it only became natural that Nick would come to love it as much.
“My dad showed me the game. Just growing up around it, I fell in love with it and it became all I wanted to do.”
Nick played football for a couple of seasons, but baseball was his real passion. Plus, he understood that if he really wanted to live out his dream of reaching the Major Leagues, he had to be all in for the sport.
“Once I hit high school, I just wanted to put all my focus into baseball. There wasn’t really time for anything else if I was going to be either playing or training and if I wanted to make it to pro ball.”
Establishing a Resume of His Own
While he had the pedigree to become a pro, Nick Kaye was not taking anything for granted. He knew he had to prove he had what it took to catch the attention of professional scouts, and that is what he did.
He attended Glendora High School (CA), where he starred for the Tartans. Nick made the varsity team as a freshman, and delivered an outstanding rookie campaign. In 25 games, the outfielder hit .284 with 10 runs scored and 7 RBI. He followed that up with a .364 average in 27 games as a sophomore. Nick also scored 20 runs and had 9 extra base hits.
After the outfielder hit .279 his junior season, Nick took his game to a whole new level as a senior. In 29 games, he hit .386 with 20 RBI and 26 runs. Of his 34 hits, 14 went for extra bases, including hitting 4 homers. He had season highs in all major offensive categories and earned conference honors for his performance.
He also caught the attention of scouts. In 2015, the Texas Rangers selected Nick in the 15th round and his dream of becoming a professional baseball player was about to become a reality.
Choosing the Key that Gives Him the Pathway to Greatest Success
Nick Kaye was faced with quite a dilemma coming out of high school. He had earned offers from several college programs and had committed himself to play at Cal State Fullerton. However, this was his chance to start building his own professional resume. While he had two great options, there was clearly only one path for Nick to follow.
“I just wanted to kind of get out there and play pro ball. It was nothing against going to college. I just thought at that time that that was the right step for me.”
In 2015, Kaye was sent to the Rangers rookie league team in Arizona, where he hit .173 in 36 games. It was not exactly the kind of start Nick was looking for, but he had a lot of adjustments to make in his first season in the pros.
“The game speeds up and consistency is what you need to have. You always have to be prepared every day when you take the field. It was definitely different being on my own. I think it helped me grow up and mature as a person and it was definitely a big step for me.”
A year later he would return to the team where he raised his average to .250 in 40 games, scoring 14 runs and driving in 21. In 2017, Kaye was moved to Low-A Spokane, where he .129 in 34 games.
Finding the Right Key to a Return to Affiliate Ball
This past January, the Rangers opted to give Nick Kaye his unconditional release. While he had not produced as he or the organization had expected, the truth was that he was only 21 years old, so the release was a bit of a surprise.
Undeterred, the outfielder dedicated himself to improving every part of his game this past off-season. While not happy about the release, he took advantage of this opportunity to grow.
“This off-season was kind of a big turning point for me where I just sat back and looked at everything, reevaluated and went back to remembering that this is just a game. I was always too hard on myself growing up, so I just want to get back to that it’s just a game. You’re out there playing a kid’s game for a living, so you always have to be happy about that.”
To accomplish this, Nick spent the off-season working on his swing. If he was going to succeed, he knew that there were some adjustments that had to be made.
“This off-season I worked with Craig Wallenbrock and we worked on my swing. This year I’m going to be coming in with my swing set and it’s going to be exciting.”
Nick was also looking for a job, and opted to take the advice of someone from his hometown on where to make his home in 2018.
“A guy on my hometown, Brennen Salgado, played for the Wingnuts. That’s kind of how I found out about them. This off-season I was searching, and I happen to remember that the Wingnuts have a great program. I thought I would give it a shot and just decided to be a part of the team.”
The Keys to Success in 2018
In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo asks, “What’s in a name?” The truth is that a name can actually say a lot about a person, and that is no more true than in the case of Nick Kaye. Kaye is a surname whose British origin means key. The key to the success for the outfielder began with the DNA and the environment that his parents provided for him growing up.
“My parents have definitely made this possible. My dad was the one who taught me about baseball. We definitely do have our baseball talks but we just try to relax to. ‘They have been such a great support for me.”
It’s also been about having the right mental approach to the game. Baseball is arguably the most taxing sport mentally because of how much failure batters face, yet Nick is finding that just keeping it simple is the solution to prolonged slumps and periods of great success.
“I got to go out there and kind of just take a deep breath and relax. To not be so caught up in the emotions of your game. Just a deep breath. That works for me. Other people have their things, but it’s just a deep breath. I just want to be consistent and trust my talent. Not try to do too much.”
Of course, no one is going to put in the kind of effort it takes to be great and push themselves when they are struggling if they don’t love what they are doing. Nick Kaye loves baseball and loves that he can play the game he loves with a bunch of guys who are like brothers to him.
“The season is a long season but when you get down to it, you’re with the guys and that is what makes it so much fun. When you’re off the field you just enjoy the time away from baseball, but during the games and everything you’re driving to win, to try to make a playoff run. It’s all that stuff, a playoff mentality. I was with the Indians last season and we were making a playoff run, and playoff baseball you just can’t beat it. You got to put your head in a good place.”
Ready to Return to Where He Belongs
With 25 days until the American Association season gets underway, Nick Kaye is looking to help the Wichita Wingnuts reach the playoffs for the ninth straight season. Helping his team reach the Pioneer League playoffs last season was a big thrill, and he is looking forward to helping his new team earn their second league championship.
The outfielder is also looking to prove that he deserves another chance with an affiliate team. He is just 21 after all, and is still maturing both physically and mentally and, with a year in Wichita, he could easily achieve that goal while also helping the club to a league title. No doubt Nick Kaye will be a huge key to the success of the Wichita Wingnuts this season.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA