Our 40 in 40 series, which looks at every player on the 40 man roster for the Pittsburgh Pirates, continues today with a look at a 2010 draft pick that could finally make his way to the majors this year, Nick Kingham.
Entering the season as a top ten prospect for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Nick Kingham is hoping that 2018 is the year that he finally reaches the Major Leagues. He will start the 2018 season with Indianapolis, but he should be one of the top options if the team needs a starter at some point.
Kingham and Jameson Taillon have a few things in common. Both were members of the 2010 amateur draft case for the Pirates, with Taillon being picked second overall and Kingham in the fourth round with the 117th pick. Taillon went under the knife for Tommy John surgery in 2014 and Kingham unfortunately had to also undergo the surgery almost exactly a year later. If he stays healthy and pitches like he has during his minor league career to this point, he’ll have another thing in common: a starting rotation spot with the team that drafted him.
In the eight years that Kingham has spent in the Pittsburgh farm system, he’s logged 699 innings and compiled a 41-40 record. While that inning total may seem a little underwhelming given that he’s been in the system for eight years, some of that can be attributed to the injuries he has suffered throughout his career. In addition to the Tommy John surgery that he underwent in 2015 which caused him to miss all of that year and some of 2016, he also was sidelined by an ankle injury to start the 2017 campaign.
But when he is healthy and on the mound, Kingham has shown that at worst he could be a three or four in the rotation for the Pirates. He has a career HR/9 of 0.6, so he does a great job of keeping the ball in the park. He limits the free passes as his career BB/9 of 2.4 indicates, and he pairs that with a respectable K/9 of 7.6. Kingham generates a decent number of ground balls, with a percentage of 45.1 in his 113 innings with Indianapolis last year. So he would fit in well with the team’s mentality if the need for another starter arises.
The last two starts that Kingham made with the Indians last year saw him give up a total of 12 runs in just 8.2 innings of work, but prior to that he went on an incredible run. From July 24 to August 21, Kingham tossed a total of 45.1 innings and gave up just six runs to go along with a fantastic 5/29 BB/K ratio. On August 10th he threw an absolute gem when he went all nine innings and gave up just one run on two hits. He did not walk a hitter in that start and struck out eight. He almost went the distance again on August 21st when he lasted eight and two thirds of an inning and again allowed just a single run.
Kingham’s minor league career ERA is 3.42 but posted a 4.13 with Indianapolis last year. Since ERA is just that, the average earned runs a pitcher gives up over nine innings, so other stats might paint a more complete picture of Kingham. ERA does not take into consideration that many of the events that take place after the ball has left the pitcher’s hand are out of his control. So if FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is used instead, it shows that Kingham has actually been better than his ERA indicates. So while the 4.13 ERA last year might be seen as being a little high, his FIP of 3.59 with the Indians last year shows that he was solid contributor to their rotation. In fact according to Fangraphs, Kingham has not posted a FIP above 4.00 since 2012 when he was still in the lower rungs of the team’s system.
If Kingham is given an opportunity this season, he could very well grab a rotation spot and hold on to it. But while he has been a good rotation option throughout his career, the above mentioned injuries have let to him missing a lot of time. He threw just 118 innings last year between Indianapolis (113) and Bradenton (5) and his career high is 159 which came in 2014 with Indianapolis (88) and Altoona (71). So even if he would receive a promotion to the Pirates this year, the team is going to be very careful with the number of innings he pitches across all levels. It is hard to envision a scenario in which Kingham eclipses more than 160-175 total innings in 2018.
Unfortunately for Kingham, it appears that his much deserved promotion will ultimately depend on the performance and health of the players who start the season in the rotation. However, if a need arises for another starter, the Pirates are in the fortunate situation to have someone basically ready to join the rotation. He does not have much left to prove in the minors and the 26 year old should receive his promotion to the big leagues at some point in 2018. The question is, when?