BRADENTON, Fla. – It’s been a few years since Nick Kingham had Tommy John surgery, and the right-handers prospect status hasn’t fully rebounded. He returned to Triple-A this past year after being injured in 2015 and rehabbing in 2016. The problem was that he didn’t look like the pitcher he was before the injury.
Kingham’s stuff was previously in the 92-95 MPH range, touching higher, but dropped down to the 90-92 range last year. His command used to be some of the best in the system, but he saw his walk rate go up in his return from Tommy John, while also being more hittable.
That all started to change for the better, as Brian Peloza wrote last year. Kingham had a meeting with his catcher, Jacob Stallings, along with Indianapolis pitching coach Stan Kyles and manager Andy Barkett. The focus of the meeting was more on his mentality, trying to get him to be less hittable, and trying to turn his season around.
The results down the stretch spoke for themselves. Kingham had a 3.00 ERA in his final 54 innings, with a 35:7 K/BB ratio. Those are the types of numbers that made him a prospect to watch in the first place. The question is whether he can continue, and maybe improve on that. He’s optimistic that he’s on the right track.
“I think I picked up right where I left off,” Kingham said. “The train is still going. I feel like I’m not where I want to be, but I’m definitely better than I was last year. Mentally and physically, stuff-wise, I feel really good about where I’m at. The ball is coming out good. It’s a good feel. I’m very optimistic about how things are going so far in Spring Training, and I think they’re going to improve.”
Kingham talked about his command, and that meeting from last year, saying that it helped him realized that he had some doubt in his mind about his stuff returning from Tommy John.
“Coming back from an injury, you still have that little doubt in the back of your mind,” Kingham said. “Even though I didn’t want to admit it, or maybe I didn’t notice it, but it was still there. Now, coming into a fresh year, after having a full season last year under my belt, it’s just a total game changer. I feel so much more confident and so much better, just better prepared going into this Spring Training, after knowing last year that I could endure a full season. So I couldn’t be more happier with where I’m at right now.”
Clint Hurdle said earlier this week that Kingham has a shot at the majors out of camp, although it seems that would only happen in a bullpen role, and only if there’s an injury to one of the top seven starters. Kingham can work his way into the mix this year, especially if he follows up on his results at the end of last year.
Trying to Get That New Pitch Right
Kingham added a two-seam fastball last year, aimed at giving him another weapon. However, the addition didn’t go well.
“I threw a little bit of it last year, I didn’t love it,” Kingham said. “It was inconsistent. I’m really trying to be consistent with that. I think that’s going to be a huge pitch with me.”
He’s still working on the pitch. The four-seam fastball will be his primary go-to option, but the two-seamer could help him in situations if he can get it to be more consistent.
“Last year it was just inconsistent,” Kingham said. “I feel like it was good sometimes, it was bad sometimes. Sometimes when it was good it wouldn’t keep being good. It just varied pitch-to-pitch. This year I’ve got it down a little bit more. It’s more consistent. I know the action, what it’s going to do, so I can work with that. Sometimes it would run arm-side. Sometimes it would sink down. So now it’s more consistent, it has the same action pitch after pitch. I can work with it and really own that.”
Having that extra pitch will help, especially if situations come up where his four-seam fastball becomes too hittable, or where his control of the four-seamer is starting to fade. That pitch, plus the changes in his confidence last year, are two things that could help Kingham rebound his prospect status, and finally make his way to the big leagues.