Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Top Prospects: #9 – Nick Kingham

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To recap the countdown so far:

20. Willy Garcia, RF
19. Clay Holmes, RHP
18. Mitch Keller, RHP
17. Max Moroff, 2B
16. Chad Kuhl, RHP
15. Cole Tucker, SS
14. Stephen Tarpley, LHP
13. Steven Brault, LHP
12. Yeudy Garcia, RHP
11. Kevin Newman, SS
10. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B

We continue the countdown with the number 9 prospect, Nick Kingham.

9. Nick Kingham, RHP

The 2015 season looked like the year where Nick Kingham could make the jump to the majors, taking a long-term spot in the Pirates’ rotation. There was definitely an opportunity for him this year after some mid-season injuries. However, Kingham had an injury of his own, going down with Tommy John surgery in May.

Kingham said that he threw a pitch and felt a pop in his elbow. Prior to the injury, he was dealing with some command issues and was getting hit pretty hard. Tommy John doesn’t usually just show up on one pitch, but is an issue that takes place over time. It’s possible that the command issues were related, and the pop was the literal breaking point for his tendon. Either way, the Pirates have been using the rehab period to clean up his arm slot and his timing, which should remove any command issues when he returns.

Tommy John usually takes 12-14 months of recovery, and the Pirates have been more conservative in their rehab in the last year. Kingham started throwing in September, and was up to 120 feet in December. The plan is to start throwing in January, and get to a point where he can throw in bullpens by the end of Spring Training. The rehab process is long and tedious, but fortunately Kingham talks with Jameson Taillon on a daily basis to help him through the process.

Kingham had some nice upside before the injury, with a fastball that sat 92-95 MPH, touching 97-98. The pitch had good command and good downward movement. He also throws a curve and a changeup, with both offerings flashing above-average at times. The curve can be deceptive, looking like a fastball out of the hand, then featuring late drop that makes it a good out pitch or a ground ball pitch. He’s got the frame to go 200 innings a year, and his pitch combo and normal pinpoint command could make him a future number three starter in the majors. Expect him to return late 2016, with a chance for the majors in 2017.

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  • When you guys say “out pitch”, does that mean a swing-and-miss pitch intended to get K’s?

    • That’s the common usage, at least in today’s DIPS world.

      You could make an argument that a really, really good sinker or cutter could an an “out” pitch by getting weak contact, but that of course is bringing fielders into play.

    • Agree with NMR. I believe most consider “out pitch” to be interchangeable with “swing and miss” pitch.
      However, some do consider an out pitch to be just that – a pitch that would most likely result in an out. Hughes’ “out pitch” would be his sinker – which is why they bring him in when there are men on the bases.

  • Tim/John…help refresh my memory, if you don’t mind.

    Weren’t there some reports of Kingham’s curveball flattening out a bit in 2014 as he was focusing more on developing the change? Pretty severe drop in strikeouts between ’13 and ’14, but I’d thought there was a bit of an explanation past just losing his stuff. That breaking ball was a real weapon when he moved up to Altoona.

    I think you guys did a great job balancing the inherent uncertainty added after an injury like this while resisting the urge to leapfrog some of the fresher breakout arms over him. Kid could be a real money-saver for this club moving forward.

    • I watched him pitch in Altoona that year and sat with a scout I know very well during the game. We also talked to Nick, another scout and Dean Treanor during the year and the consensus was that he was trying to do too much against the upper level hitters. Instead of attacking batters and staying within himself, he was trying to be too fine early in the count, then trying too hard to put batters away. His command was off and everything would flatten out. In essence, he was making himself more hittable by trying to do too much. Instead of 93 with good downward plane, you would get a flat 95 belt high and upper level hitters would punish that. Plus he was behind in the count too much, so that meant more fastballs in hitter’s counts

    • I think it was 2013 when he told me his curve got a bit rusty after the focus on his fastball and change.

  • Tim/John … This doesn’t apply specifically to Kingham but to pitching prospects in general:
    The good prospects seem to have good fastballs (speed, movement, or both), a good secondary offering (curve, slider), and the following “…he’s working on developing a change up.” To make it as a starter you usually require three to four major league pitches. Why don’t pitching prospects get docked more for not having that third/fourth pitch? Is there an accepted belief that good pitchers will eventually get the change up? Or that there other pitches are so good that they can “get by” with mediocre change ups?

    • There are two-pitch pitchers who have had success in the Majors, but it’s difficult to do and sustain. Wade Miley and Charlie Morton are two pitchers who kind of illustrate that challenge through their inconsistency. They have two good pitches, but if either is off, they really don’t have another to fall back on. AJ Burnett was kind of a two-pitch pitcher with the Pirates, too, but he could throw his curve with varying character and had a little more confidence in the changeup he usually left in his back pocket, so he was only a two-pitch pitcher when his two pitches were working.

      In general, though, a starter needs at least three pitches just to keep hitters off balance facing them two or three times in a single game. It’s not an issue for relievers because whatever they throw is already different to the hitter.

    • Most pitching prospects don’t need more than two good pitches in high school or college. Then they enter pro ball and need to develop more to remain a starter. Or a pitch that worked in college isn’t good enough to work in the pros.

  • Tim, John or anyone that has seen Nick’s change up. I’ve read it described as a hard change, more movement than speed difference. I guess what I’m trying to ask, is it a true change, or something like a screwball?

    • I’m not sure right now what the grip is that he uses. I do know that the changeup does have some speed difference from his fastball, along with movement. It’s not like Glasnow’s changeup was in the past where it’s coming in at 88-90 MPH and the fastball is 94-96.

      • Thanks, I thought I remember reading that his change was like the way you describe Glasnow’s old change. What ever happened to the screwball? has anyone since Valenzuela used it successfully? Any righties, ever? emjay I’m asking you, or foo or any of you baseball historians!!!! Does Bauer throws it?
        Ok Just looked it up, currently Hector Santiago of the Angels throws it, righties like HOF Juan Marichal used it as well.
        http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/13/magazine/the-mystery-of-the-vanishing-screwball.html?_r=0

        • HartHighPirate
          January 26, 2016 12:21 pm

          Melencon’s out pitch is a knuckle curve which he learned from Riviera when he was with the Yankees. It dropped and fell away from right hand batters.for a third strike.called or swing-and-miss.

        • The screwball is a really hard pitch to throw, and most guys can get similar action and results by developing a good circle-change. In the rare instance that a pitcher finds a screwball they can throw consistently without blowing out their arm, it’s an awesome pitch, but most guys who get screwball action are actually just throwing a really sharp changeup.

          So the question is, do you define a screwball by its motion (in which case a number of pitchers throw one) or by its grip and arm action (in which case few do)? I figure throwing a good circle-change with a little wrist pronation to get that lateral action is the better option since it’s easier on the arm and easier to throw, but the bold may be inclined to give the more difficult pitch a shot for the gains in extra movement.

          • This reply was like catnip to me. I love the art of pitching

          • thank you, I just learned a lot

          • piraterican21
            January 26, 2016 2:04 pm

            I get your point, I’ve seen Liriano’s two seamer move as much as reverse slider with out the tilt, in his first season with the Pirates he threw one that broke so much away from a rightie that the batter just looked back at Frankie baffle. Is he able to throw consistently? Doubt it, but is there somewhere.

          • piraterican21
            January 26, 2016 2:05 pm

            Btw the link that I attached debunks the arm problem enigma that the pitch has. Is a good read if you have the time.

            • Not really. Santiago’s is a really hard circle-change, not a complete screwball. He pronates his wrist a little extra to put that extra spin on the ball, but it’s a circle-change grip. So in this case, his pitch is defined as a screwball because of what it ends up doing (as I defined in my second paragraph), not so much from grip and arm action, which is more or less a modified circle-change.

              I mean, have you ever thrown a true screwball? A complete, other-side-of-the-ball curve? It hurts immediately. Even if it doesn’t actually lead to injury, it’s not a pitch a lot of guys want to commit to throwing, because it’s inevitable discomfort.

              • My simple understanding of a screwball is a pitch that runs arm side while a curve runs glove side. Don’t know why, but LHP’s seem to throw a natural screwball that runs away and down to a RH, and runs in on the hands to a LH. Growing up we called it an inshoot. One of the best I ever saw was thrown by Todd Helton who was a phenomenal pitcher in HS. He had velocity and Command and would work out on the outer third and then bust a pitch that out of his hand was coming straight at a RH batter and it would run back over the inside corner of the plate. RHP’s like Arrieta throw that back-up pitch outside the zone and let it run back over the outer third to RH batters sort of like Greg Maddux.

          • Eric gagne had that thing he threw, split change or whatever and it was one of the most evil things I’ve ever seen. For 3 years he was as good as anyone ever including Rivera. Roids? Maybe, but I used to watch the end of dodger games to hear vin skully call his dominance when I had the package during those years.

          • Thanks for such a great explanation!

        • Daisuke matsuzaka threw a screw that they called a “gyroball” I don’t know if he throws that anymore or not. I’m too lazy to look it up.

  • When you were ranking him as a prospect, did the TJ surgery (and any recovery issues surrounding it) affect his ranking?

    • He did drop from a 6.0 low risk ranking to 5.0 medium risk, which knocked him down three spots. Until someone recovers from a major injury and time missed, you can’t assume they will be where they were. His recovery is going great so far, but until he gets on the mound and shows he is back to normal, there will/should be questions and it showed a little in the drop in rankings.

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