First Pitch: Sorting Out the Mixed Reviews For Nick Kingham

In the last two days, Baseball America released their top 20 lists for the Eastern League and the International League. With their first five lists, there weren’t any big surprises. Two players made it from the GCL, West Virginia and Bradenton and it was the players we expected. The lists for the Appalachian League(Bristol) and NYPL(Jamestown) didn’t have any Pirates players and we really didn’t expect anyone to be on them. When they got to the final two lists, that is where the lists went rogue.

Nick Kingham has some of the best upside in the Pirates farm system (Photo Credit: David Hague)
Nick Kingham has some of the best upside in the Pirates farm system (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Nick Kingham was ranked 20th on both the EL and IL lists. I expected him to be higher on each list and looking at both of them, he seems to fit in the top ten nicely on each list. Perhaps the bigger surprise was the Pirates minor league players ranked ahead of him on each list. Casey Sadler, Elias Diaz and Willy Garcia all ranked ahead of Kingham. I don’t like giving away too much about the upcoming Pirates Prospects top 50 list, which will be in our 2015 prospect guide. Saying that, I can guarantee you that none of those three will be ranked ahead of Kingham when the guide comes out.

If you wanted to, you could go back to our top 10 lists for each team and figure out that Kingham will be ranked ahead of those other three. He was first on our Altoona list and second on the Indianapolis list behind Gregory Polanco. Elias Diaz ranked fourth for Altoona and both Sadler and Garcia ranked sixth.

That is a huge difference between what we have and what Baseball America had, so that led to me taking over First Pitch today. To start off, I went to my go-to scout whenever I have questions. I personally saw all four of the players in question while they were with West Virginia and Tim Williams saw them all with Bradenton, plus I’ve seen Kingham start for Altoona. In August, we went to an American League scout for his opinion on Kingham, so there is a lot to go on here with everything we know, along with the Baseball America report.

Here are four scouting reports on Kingham. First, I’ll start with the long-time NL scout I talked to on Wednesday. He has seen Kingham in person numerous times over the last three years. He said the following about him during our talk:

I saw him throw very well & still like him as much as in previous years. FB-(91-93), with potential above average CB-(78-82), & average CH-(83-87). There’s plenty to like about Nick”

The AL scout in August said:

“He has a hard change, but good fade. There is late slider run and command with the fastball. He is a poor man’s Gerrit Cole for me. He is a few ticks below Cole, so more of a three starter.”

Those are in line with what we have heard in the past. Then you have the scouting reports from Baseball America. First, starting with the Eastern League write-up:

“Kingham’s primary offering is his fastball, which sits between 90-95 mph and features sink and occasionally cut. He complements the pitch with a slider that sits in the low-80s but can touch higher velocities, and a changeup in the high-80s with solid fading action late. If his changeup improves, he could be a No. 3 starter, though he more safely projects as a durable No. 4.”

The International League write-up had this to say about Kingham(different people wrote up each league):

“Kingham’s clean delivery and efficient use of the strike zone enabled him to average six innings of work in 14 starts with Indianapolis. He gets good angle on all of his pitches. His changeup can be an above-average pitch and is his best secondary offering. He throws both a hard slider and curveball that grade as fringy pitches. He showcased a fastball that can reach 96 mph, though he pitches comfortably in the 91-93 range. ”

The mixed reports also come from within Baseball America. During the International League chat, which was combined with the PCL chat, Vincent Lara was asked about how many players from each league would make one combined top 20 list. His answer was, either 17-3 or 16-4 in favor of the PCL. He said Gregory Polanco would make the list, Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor would also make the list and for the possible fourth person…Nick Kingham. The guy who was ranked #20 on their list, ranked #4 on the list of the person running their chat. He also mentioned later that Kingham is a pitcher in the IL that should be in the top 100 when that list comes out. The reason that Lara said this is because he’s seen Kingham and likes him, plus he has heard good reports from others.

What we get from those four reports is that Kingham throws his fastball in the 91-93 MPH range, but he can ramp it up when needed. I’ve personally seen numerous 96 MPH readings in person and he has hit 97 on multiple occasions. That is a strong fastball. The reports are mixed on his curve and his change, with both of them called average offerings and both called above average. Coming from a 22-year-old, that tells you that he flashes above average stuff with both pitches, but he is inconsistent with the pitches. At his age, that isn’t a surprise, but it tells you that he has a chance for three above average pitches and his command is strong. He’s a big kid with a good body for pitching, which should allow him to put in 200 innings a year.

Based on everything we know, the Baseball America rankings won’t affect how we feel about Kingham. We have heard too many strong reports on him to drop him down our prospect rankings. Most people call him a workhorse #3 starter in the majors and his floor is very high. At this time, I don’t think anyone questions that he will someday be a regular starter in the majors.

Elias Diaz has high upside if he can add some power and hit well at AAA, but there are still questions as to whether he will be a starter in the majors or a defensive-minded backup because the bat isn’t a guarantee yet. That will still get him ranked much higher than he was at this time last year, but not in the top ten like Kingham. Casey Sadler profiles as a #5 starter if all goes well, or a solid reliever if it doesn’t. Willy Garcia is a toolsy outfielder, but his floor is extremely low because of his horrible walk and strikeout rates, which aren’t improving as he moves up. Diaz is the only one that can match Kingham’s upside, but the difference is their worst case scenario, which puts Kingham higher on the prospect list.

Links and Notes

** Winter Leagues: Allie Extends Hit Streak, Big Night For Dean Anna

** Baseball America Places Three Pirates in International League Top 20

** 2014 Recap: The Pirates Have Finally Found Their Shortstop in Jordy Mercer

** AFL: Angel Sanchez Added to Scottsdale Roster, Strikes Out Three in First Inning

  • Kingham’s strikeout rate was way down and his walk rate was slightly up. With his low K rate, he will need to limit walks and HR, and he will need to start inducing more groundballs. His groundball rate has been poor for his entire career, so I am not sure there is any reason to expect much improvement.
    But pitchers like Vance Worley and Bruce Chen have been able to sustain solid careers with similar stuff, so Kingham should get plenty of chances to earn a starting role over the years. I would not expect him to contend for any Cy Young awards.

  • I don’t like Sadler at all, I am willing to go that the Pirates were using him wrong at the MLB level, he is not a relief pitcher of any kind, Pimentel is not a relief pitcher of any kind either, but Kingham is a big time talent and individual games and rankings are not how he should be judged, in the Pirate system you work on your secondary pitches even if you get hit with them, that can cloud your record.

  • Lee Foo Young
    October 16, 2014 9:26 am

    I think BA just screwed up. Bottom line is: He’s a good pitching prospect, so it doesn’t really matter where BA had him.

    If I had to compare him to someone in the majors, might Lance Lynn be a good comparison?

    • Kingham doesn’t throw as hard as Lynn nor does he rely on his fastball as heavily. But having seen all of the Pirate prospects mentioned numerous times, the only one that might be rated higher would be Diaz. I said from the beginning of the past season that Kingham’s command was inconsistent while in Altoona this year, but that is no reason to rate a player like Willy Garcia ahead of him. Kingham’s potential was easy to see even as he dealt with his inconsistencies.

    • He’s nowhere near as fat as Lance Lynn, so that’s a terrible comp 🙂

    • I don’t think so Lance Lynn throws 80% fastballs, a bit of an outlier.

  • It gets tricky ranking some prospects, especially when original draft position, reputation, and potential do not lineup with actual performance.Lets face it, Kingham was not bad in 2014, but was not great either – inconsistent and spotty at times. I think he will be much better in 2015.

    In comparison to Diaz, Sadler, and Garcia, I could see Diaz now being ranked higher than Kingham – primarily because of the breakout year that Diaz had in 2014, combined with a less than stellar 2014 from Kingham. I still would put him ahead of Sadler, based on potential alone – and they are easier to compare given that they are both pitchers. I would also still have Kingham higher than Garcia, but not be a lot. I would rank them Diaz, Kingham, Garcia, and Sadler.

    I am a little surprised that Sampson didn’t make the EL Top 20, as he had very good year in 2014. You could argue that Sampson was more deserving than any of the above, with exception of Diaz.

    • I think the problem with just ranking Diaz over Kingham is you have to ignore their track record prior to this year to do that. It’s assuming that the 23-year-old Diaz is on an upward trend and the 22-year-old Kingham is on a downward trend, even though he spent an extra half season at AAA. I will say that if their ages were reversed, Diaz would have a much better case to be rated higher, but when doing prospect rankings, age/level is an important factor.

      • Is one year age difference, at the AA/AAA level, that important? Its not like they are 3-4 years apart.

        Given just a one year age difference, I would put much more weight in actual performance at this point – since both will be soon knocking on the doors to the majors.

        With all that being said, they are both very good prospects IMHO and I would not lose sleep regardless of which one was ranked higher than the other.

        I will say this….Diaz is the much more important prospect right now of the two, especially if we do not re-sign Martin.

        • Kingham has a half year more at AAA and is a year younger. That is enough to make him the better prospect if all things were equal, but they aren’t. He has the better track record, which also helps his case. He doesn’t have the floor that Diaz has, which also helps his case. No one says Kingham will probably end up as a middle reliever, which is probably the equivalent of a back-up catcher that can’t hit enough, which is what some feel could happen to Diaz. Baseball history is littered with 23 year old players that did well in AA that couldn’t hit in the majors. The worst I’ve heard for Kingham recently is a #4 starter. That is definitely a higher worst case scenario than glove-only backup catcher.

          • John – you are assuming that Diaz will not hit above the AA level, while assuming that Kingham will be successful above the AA level as a pitcher. Neither is a given.
            I disagree that Diaz will be a glove only backup catcher. He seems very confident in his bat and works very hard at it. He also des not strikeout a ton, like other young hitters often do.
            Don’t get me wrong, I like Kingham as well. I just don’t see much difference between the two as prospects at this point. That could change in 2015 – we will see.

  • Kingham’s curveball certainly doesn’t look “fringy” in this video:

    • I should be so “fringy.” Nice post.


      • wabbit…we miss your carrots on the asylum. Y U B ignoring us? Did we talk detrimentally about how horribly you line those soccer fields or sumthin???

        • I am just lurking now. HS soccer playoffs start in a couple days and we are surging late with a 7 game win streak… 6 by shutout.

          I tell you what. In a day or two, I will stop by with a whole wheelbarrow load of orange freedom and ranch dressing for the inmates.

          Meanwhile, I skim everything here at P2 and am looking forward to the new prospect guide…

  • I think it’s obvious they forgot him on the EL list and they put him at 20 instead of 8 or 9 to save face.

    As far as the IL, he didn’t do that well there so the lower ranking is not surprising.

    • Casey Sadler was ranked 11th, so Kingham being nine spots below him is a huge surprise. It was a weak year in the IL for prospects, so there is no way Kingham should have been outside the top ten if you look at the list. BA’s own writer had him fourth best. Not sure I’d put him that high, but that’s a huge difference between being #4 and #20

      • Sadler did have a pretty nice year though. His control is pretty sick.

        I did take another look at Kingham’s AAA numbers and they were better than I thought. I guess I just remember the 2-3 games that he gave up 5+ runs and did recognize how many 1-2 runs game.

        They both will be nice depth at AAA until at least mid season.

        • No doubt his stats were good, but best stats don’t always equal best prospect. It’s hard to find a scout that likes Sadler better than Kingham. One gets #3 starter comps, the other possible #5/reliever

    • Aaron Sanchez didn’t look good either while in both AA and AAA, his control and command were sketchy at best, yet he was rated very highly by BA.