Austin Schulfer continues fast start in Twins organization
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
In his second season in the Minnesota Twins’ minor-league system, Austin Schulfer has continued the strong start to his professional baseball career.
The Plover native and former Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) pitcher threw the first five innings of a combined no-hitter for the Single A Cedar Rapids Kernels Wednesday, May 22, and entered this week with a 4-2 record and 2.41 ERA this season.
“Any kind of no-hitter, combined or straight up, in the professional realm is obviously a little bit more special, because you’re going against guys who are pros,” said Schulfer. “So to do that against them, it’s very special and it was a really cool experience, and something I’ll definitely remember for a long time.”
A 19th-round selection by the Twins in the 2018 Major League Baseball Draft last June out of the NCAA Division 1 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), Schulfer went 3-0 with a 1.58 ERA for the Rookie League Elizabethtown Twins (Tenn.) last summer, as he helped the team win the Appalachian League Title.
Schulfer carried a scoreless streak of 20 innings into this season and was assigned to Single A Cedar Rapids (Iowa), where he has worked as a starter and a reliever.
“This season’s been great so far,” said Schulfer. “Obviously there are ups and downs, but the name of the game in minor league baseball, and in baseball in your career in general, is to try and be as consistent as possible.
“And having bad games and having good games, you try to take the positives, and you have some things you’re trying to work on all of the time,” he said.
Schulfer carried a 2.83 ERA this season into last Wednesday, where he started on the mound in the second seven-inning game of a doubleheader against the Burlington Bees (Iowa) at Perfect Game Field in Cedar Rapids.
Schulfer walked the second batter of the game but didn’t allow a baserunner the rest of the way, as he struck out the final five batters he faced, and left with a no-hitter after five innings.
Teammate Jose Martinez came on in the sixth and retired each of the six batters he faced over the next two innings to combine with Schulfer on the no-hitter in a 9-0 win for Cedar Rapids, as Schulfer struck out seven, walked one and didn’t allow a hit in five innings.
“The past few outings, everything’s been working,” said Schulfer. “Our catchers put in a lot of time with the scouting reports, and we go over it as well, but I think the past eight innings that I’ve thrown, I’ve only shaken off my catcher twice.
“We were really just ready to throw whatever, whenever, and being able to throw four or five different pitches for strikes and for strikeouts, it makes baseball a little bit easier,” he said. “Basically, everything was working, and it was just attacking hitters, and that’s pretty simple when you can do those things.”
The win improved Schulfer to 4-2 with a 2.41 ERA this season, as he has limited opponents to a total of 16 hits in 33 and 2/3 innings for a .139 batting average, with 21 walks and 47 strikeouts.
After playing about a 13-and-a-half-hour drive away from Plover in Elizabethton, Tennessee, last summer, Cedar Rapids is a roughly four-hour and 15-minute drive from Schulfer’s hometown, as his parents Ryan and Jessica have been able to make frequent trips to see him play.
Cedar Rapids is also in the Midwest League with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, and Schulfer had a contingent of family and friends at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton when the two teams squared off April 5 and 6.
Although Schulfer didn’t pitch in that series, he got the call out of the bullpen when the Kernels played the Timber Rattlers in Appleton April 23, as he struck out Milwaukee Brewers 2018 first-round draft pick Brice Turang to end the bottom of the third inning, and earned the win relief after he struck out seven, walked three and allowed one earned run on two hits over three innings in a 7-6 victory.
“I remember going there as a younger kid and getting balls signed and talking to players, probably 10, 15 years ago,” said Schulfer, who went on to pitch in the WIAA Division 1 State Tournament at Fox Cities Stadium three years in a row for SPASH from 2012 to 2014. “And to be back in the same stadium where I competed for State Championships and got to pitch there a few times, it was a really cool, nostalgic kind of feeling.
“I told myself I was going to be there one day (as a minor leaguer), and to actually be there, it really hit close to home, and it was a really cool and humbling experience to know that, like 15 years ago I was thinking about doing this, and I actually am now,” he said. “And to have the family come, and my girlfriend got to come up from Jacksonville, and her family came as well, so it was a really cool experience.”
Schulfer has also kept tabs on his younger brother, SPASH sophomore pitcher Logan Schulfer, who this spring committed to play baseball in college at UWM and went 3-0 with a 0.54 ERA in conference play this season to win the Wisconsin Valley Conference ERA Title for the Panthers.
“I don’t get to watch him play as much as I would like to, but I talk to him a lot, and he’s been killing it,” said Schulfer. “We talked about him going to Milwaukee, and that’s kind of where I felt like he wanted to go all along, and it’s a really cool legacy thing, where we’re both going to get to go to the same university.
“But his career’s just taking off, and I love being able to be there and help him as much as possible, and it’s really cool to see his progress,” he said. “And him wanting to go to Milwaukee is really cool as well, to follow where I started my college baseball career, and to build off of it and do his own thing, so I’m excited for him.”
Schulfer has thrown eight consecutive hitless innings for Cedar Rapids coming into this week, as he struck out eight and walked one in three innings May 18 in his last appearance before the no-hitter, and he was named the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Week May 27.
The next step up in the Twins’ organization is for their Advanced A team in Fort Myers, Fla., while Schulfer has enjoyed his time in Cedar Rapids so far.
“Cedar Rapids has been amazing, there’s a few thousand people here every game, so being able to be in a town like that is nice, and to be closer to home and be back in the Midwest is great too,” said Schulfer. “I just want to continue to get better every day and learn, and be the best baseball player I can possibly be every day.
“Whether I get moved up soon or next year, whatever happens, that’s out of my control, and we have a lot of great players in our organization, our minor league system is ranked in the Top 10 in baseball,” he said. “But instead of focusing on what’s going to happen, my goal is to continue to worry about getting better every day, and control what I can control.”