Despite having covered the headliner arms of Pirates instructs — Gerrit Cole (covered last week) and Jameson Taillon (looking basically the same as when I covered him midseason) — there were still some interesting high ceiling arms on display.
First up is righty Nick Kingham, whom the Pirates signed for an over-slot bonus just under $500,000 in the 4th round of the 2010 draft from a Las Vegas area high school. Kingham made his full season debut in Low-A West Virginia as a 20 year old in 2012 and had a solid campaign—groundballs, good control and a solid K rate despite what appears to be a fluky home run rate fueling a 4.39 ERA.
Those stats imply an evaluation close to what I saw from Kingham in instructs. In a two inning stint, he sat 92-94 with consistent above average two-seam life down in the zone and solid location. Kingham’s 82-83 mph slider was above average at times with long action, occasional hard bite and three-quarters tilt. His changeup was the better off-speed pitch, consistently above average with better command, fade and bottom at 82-85 mph and he threw one that was plus.
Kingham torques his hips a good bit to create velocity and his arm is a little late to catch up, but not enough for it to be a red flag. He has good posture at release and a high ¾ slot to create more plane with an arm that works well out front. His delivery is pretty smooth with a solid arm action and good not great balance that he makes work despite some unnecessary east-west motion and a consistent spinoff to first base. Kingham gets over his front leg, has some deception, little effort and his front side is fine. He’s a solid athlete with a solid idea of what he’s doing—basically everything about his delivery is good enough that I wouldn’t really mess with it and he has a chance for average command at maturity.
This kind of stuff and delivery combined with a sturdy 6’5, 220 pound frame and the youth to project improvement means Kingham has a solid 3 or 4 groundball-inducing, innings-eater starter upside. It doesn’t excite fans much but is exactly the kind of player every system needs to keep the parent team from spending millions on generic or injury prone pitchers to fill out the rotation.
The other two pitchers I saw are less easy to evaluate as there are some clear strengths and weaknesses with some projection necessary. Clay Holmes was a late-rising prospect that signed for $1.2 million in the 9th round out of a south Alabama high school in 2011. Vic Black also came with a pedigree and bonus as a sandwich round pick in 2009 that got a slot bonus out of Dallas Baptist over $700,000.
Holmes requires a good bit of projection to imagine him in the big leagues since his delivery isn’t like any successful big leaguers. He does something similar to what Jered Weaver does, as a long righty throwing across his body from the extreme third base end of the rubber, but Holmes is much more awkward and stiff. Holmes’ delivery is of the upright, tall-and-fall variety and he tilts his body at a 45-degree angle at release to get his arm slot even higher than standard high three quarters. He will look pretty awkward at times with inconsistent mechanics—for example he will blatantly throw off his heel at times while having a solid, balanced foot strike at other times.
As for the stuff, Holmes is in good shape. He sat 90-93, hitting 95 in a two inning outing, working up in the zone more than I’d like (likely fixed with a better delivery) with primarily four-seamers. His 77-79 mph curveball will show occasional sharp downward bite and above average potential. Holmes’ 83-84 mph changeup has cut as opposed to the more standard fading action but he has solid feel for it and it could be a solid-average pitch.
There’s a lot of wasted east-west motion for no real benefit and with a very short to non-existent list of big league pitchers with a delivery like that, you have to be concerned about Holmes reaching the show with his health, stuff and command all where they could be with a cleaner motion. The body, stuff, arm action and age are all in his favor and things can still work out, but I would have to be really sold on Holmes’ makeup and coach-ability to give him $1.2 million.
Black is a little easier to figure out as he is more straightforward—the max effort reliever with a big fastball and not much else. The other pitchers at instructs had heard about Black’s radar readings and lined up to see if he could hit triple digits, though he only peaked at 99 mph for me once over two outings.
The first outing was one inning and Black sat 96-98 hitting 99 while the next, two inning stint had him at 96-97, then 92-94 in the second inning, underscoring the obvious weakness in his strength. His other pitch is a hard curveball at 82-85 mph that he has real trouble staying on top of, commanding and getting consistent action on, but is an above average downer when Black gets it right.
Black pitches exclusively from the stretch with a very aggressive stride and unusually high arm slot. There’s some head violence, lack of repeatability and below average in-game command. Black is 24 and put up solid numbers in AA Altoona last year, but he projects as more of a one-dimensional middle reliever.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.