BRADENTON, Fla. – Yesterday, he was pitching for the Dominican Republic World Baseball Classic team. Today, armed with a fully charged iPad with Netflix, he is on a plane towards Tokyo to pitch for Team Israel.
“I’m the first Dominican Jew,” Jared Lakind joked before leaving LECOM Park on Thursday morning.
Jared Lakind, who received a non-roster invite to Major League camp this year, will be joining Team Israel for the second round of the World Baseball Classic. Israel swept Korea, Chinese Taipei, and the Netherlands in Pool A to advance to Pool E in Tokyo. So far, the Netherlands and Japan have advanced with Israel.
Lakind said that his coaches have been extremely supportive of his participation in the WBC, saying that manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage were extremely happy for him. His first priority this spring, however, was none other than the one of the clubhouse he is leaving today.
“I didn’t go in the first round because my priority was here with the Pirates,” Lakind said. “I wanted to do my best, and with it being my first big league camp, I didn’t want to leave too early. I told [the Israeli team] a couple months ago that if they make the second round, I’d be one of the first guys there.”
He’s been taking a lot of advice this spring from the likes of Ray Searage, Euclides Rojas, and Heberto Andrade. If he had to put what he has been learning from big league camp in one sentence, Lakind says he has developed “a much better approach and routine.”
“You’re going to go up, down, and all around,” Lakind said. “Just learning to stick with your routine has helped me a lot.”
That opportunity to learn from this Pirates major league staff didn’t come until early January, when the Pirates invited Lakind to major league camp as a non-roster invitee. He became a minor league free agent after finishing the year with the Altoona Curve and re-signed following the season.
“I think they called two days after I got back from the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in New York,” Lakind said about his invitation to big league camp. “I wanted to be with the team that knows me the best. I was happy they called and showed a lot of interest.”
A Position Player Turned Pitcher
Lakind was a first baseman and pitcher in high school, but he described himself a simply “a thrower” rather than a pitcher in his teens. He was drafted by the Pirates as a first baseman in 2010, but things simply didn’t work out playing the position, as he has a career .161 AVG and .506 OPS.
Joey Cora joked last season about Lakind’s switch to pitching: “The reason he’s a pitcher is because he wasn’t a very good position player. He said he could hit, and I said, ‘Obviously you couldn’t because you’re a pitcher now.’”
In 2013 at Low-A Jamestown, Lakind went back to the mound and eventually things clicked as a left-handed pitcher. He posted a 1.69 ERA in 26.2 innings in 2015 for West Virginia and the GCL Pirates. He received an aggressive promotion to Double-A Altoona last year and displayed some great ability, finishing the season with a 2.59 ERA in 66 innings, including a stretch of over a month and a half without allowing an earned run.
He has been known to have a “bulldog” mentality on the mound as a pitcher who attacks the zone.
“Playing football growing up, as well as playing baseball, just gave me that mentality of just being aggressive,” Lakind said. “Even when your stuff isn’t there, that hitter doesn’t know it. You go in there and you give 100% of what you’ve got. That’s just the one thing I know the Pirates teach a lot of mentality, and I think that’s a really good thing for young guys to understand. You’re not going to have your greatest stuff everyday, but if you believe in it, and you’re convicted, you’re going to do a lot better than you thought.”
Lakind works mostly fastball and slider, but the slider had a little too much of a “slurve” action, so he has been working on making it more like a slider with late, sharp action. His fastball velocity has jumped from high 80s to between 90-93 MPH last season. His focus this year has been finding consistency with that slider, though.
“Some days it will be a nice hard slider. Some days it will be a curve with slider action and not as hard,” he said. “I’m trying to learn to be more consistent with it and find things to help me repeat it more as a slider. The slider is just a lot better pitch than the slurve.”
Representing Team Israel with Pride
He may have been able to keep the jersey and hat from Team Dominican Republic, but his heart is now with Israel going into second round action. Lakind has been watching every Israeli game, and he can’t wait to catch up with his teammates.
“I knew we had a good team that nobody knew about,” Lakind said. “We’re hitting on all cylinders right now it seems like. Just to go back with them and build off of it with them is exciting.”
Lakind gets his Israeli heritage from his father’s side of the family, with his dad, grandfather, and uncle all being citizens of the nation. As much as people in the United States may have different opinions on the World Baseball Classic, Team Israel performing at a high level is very important for Israel.
This WBC means more funding for baseball in Israel, who, according to Lakind, has two baseball fields and actual baseballs that “are like they are chewed by dogs”.
“It means a lot,” Lakind said. “Just by winning the qualifier puts them on the map. You can see how grateful the people were. We just thought we won a couple of games, but for them it meant more funding for the state of Israel for baseball, because baseball isn’t big there. Just to have more funding there, and to have baseball more in the youth… we don’t see it, but over there, it’s going to great lengths.”
So for the next – errr – 13 hours or so, Jared Lakind will be on a plane to represent Israel in the WBC. His hope is that he can contribute to the country of his heritage. Not only that, he hopes to return and contribute to the Pirates organization in 2017, as well.