The Pittsburgh Pirates should expect Nick Kingham to compete for a rotation spot next year after a strong performance with Indianapolis.
Even though there is a month left in Major League Baseball season, it will take a lot of wins by the Pittsburgh Pirates and a lot of losses by the teams in front of them for the club to earn a playoff berth this year.
Because of that, it is not too early (some might argue it is too early) to start to speculate on what the team will look like in 2018. The starting rotation is one area that the team needs to improve before next April. While they have seen some good starts throughout the season, in general the rotation has been fairly inconsistent. That’s why come next spring, Nick Kingham should and will be competing for a rotation spot. His performance this year with Indianapolis shows that he is ready and that he does not have much left, if anything, to prove in the minor leagues. When the calendar turns to September in a week, Kingham should be called up to get early exposure to big league hitters.
A long road back
Kingham, the team’s fourth round pick in the 2010 amateur draft, underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2015, which definitely pushed his ETA back by at least a year. He made stops at various minor league affiliates in 2016 as he rehabbed and has spent just about all of 2017 with Indianapolis. If he can perform anywhere close to what he has done with the Indians this season, Kingham should very much find himself battling for a rotation spot.
So far this year Kingham has started 19 games and pitched 108.1 innings for the AAA affiliate, compiling a record of 8-6. His ERA jumped to 3.99 after his most recent start when he gave up eight earned runs over just three and two third innings of work. But prior to that, Kingham had been on quite a roll. In his previous six starts, he went at least six innings in each of them. This includes a nine inning performance in August 10th when he allowed just one run on two hits to go along with no walks and eight strikeouts. On August 21st he almost matched that performance as he lasted eight and two third innings while giving up one run on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts. At the beginning of his season, Kingham had more outings where he was getting pulled in the fourth or fifth inning and he has seemingly gotten over that bump for the most part as of late.
No control issues
Kingham has always been good at limiting the number of walks he issues, which would obviously be very beneficial when he finally makes his MLB debut. His walk percentage of 6.1 this year is much better than average and goes with a strikeout percentage of 7.23 which is a little below average. Considering that his FIP of 3.70 indicates his 3.99 ERA may not be an accurate representation of his performance (albeit only slightly), at the very least it should be expected of Kingham to post an ERA in the big leagues around three or four.
However, there is one stat where Kingham stands out and it should not be a surprise if he regresses when he finally joins the Pirates. His HR/FB percentage of 6.9 this year is well above league average at the MLB level. So chances are that he will experience at least a slight uptick in fly balls that go over the fence instead of staying in the field of play. The 10.3 he posted in 2015 with Indianapolis and 9.1 with Altoona last year, all indications that he will fall back to somewhere around league average. For a middle of the rotation projection like Kingham, that is absolutely fine.
The 2018 iteration of the Pirates is still many months away, but there will definitely be competition for rotation spots in Bradenton next March. Both Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams have each had their fair share of starts this year, but neither have necessarily locked down a rotation spot next year. A strong finish with Indianapolis coupled with a strong showing in spring training and it is easy to see Kingham replacing one of them.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have always been a conservative team when it comes to their prospects. They like to take their time with them to ensure that they are ready for the leap to the big leagues (Tyler Glasnow and his control issues notwithstanding). Considering this and the fact that Kingham is still working his way back from the dreaded Tommy John surgery, it should come as no surprise if the team decides to ease his workload at the season comes to an end. The 108.1 innings he has pitched so far this year is just the second time he has surpassed 100, and the first time was back in 2012 with 127 so his workload the rest of the season will likely be considered. But even if that is the case, the team’s current ninth best prospect could very well settle into a middle of the rotation spot as early as 2018.