A Conversation With Colorado Rockies Pitching Prospect Karl Kauffmann

Karl Kauffmann is flying under the radar. Drafted 77th overall by Colorado out of the University of Michigan in 2019, the 23-year-old right-hander is ranked an anything-but-eye-catching No. 23 on our Rockies Top Prospects list. Recent opportunities to impress have been scant. Thanks to the pandemic, Kauffmann’s last game-action came two summers ago when he helped lead the Wolverines to the finals of the College World Series.

But he may not be under the radar much longer. Kauffmann has big plans for the forthcoming season, and they include a new pitch. With Corbin Burnes in mind, the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan native spent the winter months working on a cutter. Kauffman discussed its development, as well as the rest of his repertoire and what he’s learned from Chris Fetter, prior to the start of minor-league spring training.

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David Laurila: Your prospect profile at FanGraphs describes you as “a one-seam sinker/changeup righty with a pretty firm, inconsistent mid-80s slider.” How accurate is that?

Karl Kauffmann: “I think it paints part of the picture. There’s more to the story, stuff-wise — what I was trying to accomplish at Michigan, and how the stuff plays into that. I left high school a four-seam, 12-6, big-breaker, hard-fastball type of pitcher. I didn’t pitch much my freshman year, then went out to the Cape Cod League. That was in 2017. The coach there — I was with Scott Pickler for two years, with [Yarmouth-Dennis] — told me I’d never pitch if I didn’t learn a sinker/slider. That summer, I basically taught myself, working with some of the coaches, how to throw that one-seam. It was a way to get easy groundballs, and I picked it up pretty quickly.”

Laurila: Chris Fetter was your pitching coach at Michigan. What was his role in you making that change?

Kauffmann: “The first time I met Chris was after that summer [Fetter was hired as the school’s pitching coach in July 2017]. I’d already gone two months doing that, and had had relatively good success, so I was building off of that. I don’t even know if he knew that I could throw a 12-6, and had gone with a four-seam. It was more that [sinker/slider] was now my bread-and-butter.

“But the 12-6 and the four-seam… I think having that background kind of gives me an advantage going forward, too. I still have those pitches in my bag, and I’m waiting to hopefully pull them out this year.”

Laurila: How did you end up throwing a one-seam rather than a two-seam?

Kauffmann: “It just kind of felt comfortable in my hand. I used to go across the seam. Really, I just picked it up one day and started throwing it. It was kind of a weird… I mean, I’ve messed around with grips a lot, and that was one that just kind of stuck. It really took off in the catch-play, so I started throwing it in games.”

Laurila: What can you tell me about your changeup?

Kauffmann: “That’s something I’ve thrown for awhile, and it’s probably my go-to pitch. It’s pretty consistent; I feel confident that I can throw it in any count. I hadn’t thrown it much at school, because I could just kind of spread my fingers a little bit more on the one-seam and get more depth with the pitch. So [the changeup] is something I threw a lot at the alternate site last year, and I’m looking forward to continuing to throw it more.”

Laurila: You said that if you spread your fingers more on the one-seam, you would get more depth…

Kauffmann: “Yes, I can play around with it. I have a version where if I’m going to try to front-door a lefty — I’m trying to get a little more run on it — I’ll go tighter fingers and kind of rotate the ball, probably about two degrees. Then, if I’m trying to go in on a righty, trying to beat a groundball, or trying to steal a strike, kind of on that arm-side corner, I’ll do more of a separated fingers.”

Laurila: Separated by how much?

Kauffmann: “We’re talking a couple centimeters, maybe. It’s not like I’m throwing a splitty. It’s very minimal”

Laurila: What about your actual changeup? How do you grip that?

Kauffmann: “It’s right off the one-seam. I just rotate the ball over and throw it off that middle and ring finger, kind of off that combo.”

Laurila: It the effectiveness of your changeup more about velo differential, or more about the depth you get on it?

Kauffmann: “I’d say a combination of the two. The [velocity] on my sinker has been anywhere from 90 to 93 [mph] lately, although the last time I was in games I was touching 95 with it. The changeup is anywhere from 84 to 87.”

Laurila: And what about your slider? Is it “pretty firm and inconsistent” as Eric Longenhagen wrote?

Kauffmann: “You know, that’s something I’ve made a lot of growth with. If you looked at it in our College World Series run, it was a pitch that was anywhere from 85 to 88. I wouldn’t call it inconsistent now. I think if you saw me from sophomore year to kind of mid-April [junior year], maybe it could be considered inconsistent. But coach Fetter and I squared away the grip and kind of got that… well, squared away.

“Tinkering with it, I also kind of developed more of a cut fastball. I think that’s something that is going to be a huge piece for me going into this year. The cutter is going to be… I mean, 25% of the time is probably what I’m looking at. Corbin Burnes, with how he attacks hitters with that cut fastball, and then that sinker, is something I’m trying to model myself after.”

Laurila: Was adding a cutter self-driven, or was it a suggestion from someone in the organization?

Kauffmann: “I picked up a baseball, looked at it, and said, ‘How am I going to make this thing cut?’ Then I started watching video on Burnes, on Mariano Rivera, on Roy Halladay. I started throwing it, and I’m getting very good results so far.”

Laurila: I assume technology is helping you improve as a pitcher?

Kauffmann: “Yes. I’m basically looking for the spin efficiency and creating that consistent arm slot — release height, release side — so that we’re tunneling pitches properly. Seeing how the ball comes out of the hand is one thing, then being able to quantify it with the data that backs it up is kind of what cements everything. Being able to understand, for my cutter, ‘OK, I’m looking for this spin efficiency with this amount of spin, to create the cut that I need.’ Coach Fetter showed us the way to use that stuff properly,”

Laurila: What was it like to work with Chris Fetter?

Kauffmann: “He’s a special guy, mainly because of the way he’s able to relate with the players. He has an ability to understand players’ needs, and kind of where their heads are at in a development phase. He’s not going to overload you or push you in certain directions. He builds trust, understands a player’s needs, and then goes from there. I think that’s where he really excels.”

Laurila: Changing direction, did I see that you had a shoulder issue last summer?

Kauffmann: “I strained a lat. I don’t know where the lat falls on shoulder, side, or wherever in that spectrum. But it was very minor. It basically just ended my summer about a week and a half early.”

Laurila: Where were you throwing this offseason?

Kauffmann: “We have an indoor facility here in Michigan, 2SP [Sports Performance]. It’s a good place. DJ LeMahieu works out here in the offseason; he’s always in and out when he’s home. And one of the places where I kind of got the motivation for the cutter was at Cressey [Sports] Performance, down in Florida. That’s where I did my rehab for the lat. I got to throw with A.J. Puk pretty much every day, and seeing the way that he would throw the ball, the way the spin came at me… I mean, something kind of clicked in my mind. I thought, ‘If I were to execute this spin, getting it to cut’… that’s something I’ve been able to find.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts?

Kauffmann: “I was listening to Adam Wainwright on MLB Network recently. He said a lot of guys are trying to emulate others by looking at the analytics, and kind of losing sight of what makes them good. I think a key piece in this whole thing is that at the end of the day, I can’t do what Aroldis Chapman does with the ball. We have different stuff. There are different ways to get outs, so it’s about finding the strengths that you have, and maximizing them. That’s how you’re able to succeed at the highest level.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Dick Monfort
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Dick Monfort

I’m so glad I, er, we signed him. Based on my interpolations, he’ll give us the 20-game winner we need to catch the Dodgers.