BY STEVE KRAH
Khal Stephen was accustomed to being a baseball starting pitcher prior to arriving at Purdue University.
The 2021 graduate of Seeger Memorial Junior-Senior High School in West Lebanon, Ind., was used exclusively out of the Boilermakers bullpen in 2022 with a team-leading 23 mound appearances.
As a Purdue freshman, the right-hander went 3-4 with two saves, an 8.34 earned run average, 38 strikeouts and 18 walks in 33 2/3 innings. His WHIP (walks and hits per inning) was 1.69 and opponents hit .287 against him.
In the summer of 2022, Khal (pronounced Cal) was with the Prospect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans and earned the circuit’s Roland Hemond Pro Prospect of the Year Award after going 4-0 with a 2.02 ERA and 36 strikeouts vs. 19 hits in 26 2/3 innings. He started in three of five mound appearances.
“It is crazy with your mental ability to approach a week with the knowledge that this is my day,” says Stephen. “Without a doubt a starting role is what I wanted to be in last year and where I always wanted to be.
“I’m very blessed and happy with my situation now.”
In 12 appearances (12 starts) in 2023, he is 7-2 with 3.93 ERA, 58 strikeouts and 24 walks in 66 1/3 innings. His WHIP is 1.19 and foes are hitting .224.
His last outing came May 5 and he tied tied career- and season-high marks with eight strikeouts and went a career-best eight innings.
“If starters go deep, especially on Fridays, it’ll set up your bullpen throughout the weekend so you’re not using three or four guys a game.”
Stephen’s next start is scheduled for Friday, May 12 against Indiana University in Bloomington. The Boilers go into the three-game series at 23-23 overall and 10-8 in the Big Ten.
“It’ll be a fired-up for sure,” says Stephen.
The 6-foot-4, 225 pound athlete throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider and change-up. The four-seamer tends to sit at 92 to 94 mph and touches 96. The two-seamer has more sink and is clocked at 91 to 93 mph.
The slider has more downward than sweeping movement.
Stephen’s “circle” change possesses arm-side action with depth.
The former high school quarterback delivers these pitches from a high three-quarter arm slot.
“That gives me more ride on my fastball and more deception to the hitter,” says Stephen. “Being at the stature I am I’m able to get that downward plane on a fastball and throw a slider off of it. It just plays really well.”
Greg Goff is Purdue’s head coach.
What Stephen values most about the Boilers’ field boss is his energy and enthusiasm.
“He’s a voice you keep hearing that’s encouraging for everybody,” says Stephen. “That’s really nice.
“He’s a coach that cares about every player as well as the whole team.”
After Chris Marx leading hurlers in 2022, Boilers pitching coach duties this season are handled by Terry Rooney.
“I love working with Coach Rooney,” says Stephen. “The way he carries himself and says things, he’s very professional.
“He’s just a very ‘real’ coach. He’s not going to say your pitch is good when it’s not. I appreciate how true everything he says is.”
Rooney is the one who builds the pitchers’ schedule so they will be ready to fulfill their respective roles.
The summer before coming to Purdue, Stephen played in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. This summer plans call for him to join the Cape Cod League’s Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.
Born in Danville, Ill., Stephen grew up on a farm near Williamsport, Ind., and close to Seeger.
He took part in rec ball until he was about 12 and played travel ball for the Illinois-based Illiana Chiefs, Lafayette-based Northern Stars and Indiana Nitro. Tim Burns was his Nitro head coach.
Like older brothers Kohle Stephen (Class of 2012) and Khayne Stephen (Class of 2019), Khal was on the football (QB, receiver and safety), basketball (power forward and post) and baseball (pitcher and shortstop) teams at Seeger.
While he earned 11 varsity letters, his head coaches were Herb King on the gridiron, John Collins on the hardwood and Reed Foxworthy on the diamond.
“He did not have a whole lot of words, but when he had something to say everyone had all eyes on him,” says Stephen of Foxworthy. “He led the team like manager should. Everyone had respect for him.”
In the spring of 2021, Stephen posted a 1.35 ERA and collected 100 strikeouts and just seven walks in 51 2/3 innings and holding opponents to a .165 batting average.
With a bat in his hands, Stephen hit .541 with 26 extra-base hits and 40 runs batted in.
The 2021 Lafayette Journal & Courier Small School Area Player of the Year was named to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Evansville.
The 2020 Journal & Courier’s Area Defensive Player of the Year was also picked for the 2021 Indiana Football Coaches Association North/South All-Star Game but was unable to play because of a schedule conflict.
The COVID-19 pandemic took away the 2020 high school baseball season. In 2019, Stephen fanned 99 varsity batters.
On the academic side, Stephen is a Finance major.
Khal is the young of Mark and Kris Stephen’s three sons.
“My parents are crazy supportive in a great way,” says Stephen. “I don’t think my mom’s missed any game — not just when I’m pitching. This dates back to when I’m 10.
“My dad’s a farmer and this is a super-busy time. But every (start) my dad’s there.”