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While the top 50 prospects are exclusive to the book, we will be releasing the top 20 prospects over the next few weeks. The reports will only be available to site subscribers, including those with a monthly plan. You can subscribe here, and if you like these reports, be sure to purchase your copy of the book on the products page of the site to get much more analysis on every player in the system.

To recap the countdown so far:

20. Willy Garcia, RF
19. Clay Holmes, RHP
18. Mitch Keller, RHP
17. Max Moroff, 2B

We continue the countdown with the number 16 prospect, Chad Kuhl.

16. Chad Kuhl, RHP

Kuhl has been a guy who has flown under the radar in the Pirates’ system. A lot of that is due to the fact that he’s a sinkerball pitcher who doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts and relies almost exclusively on a pitch to contact approach and getting quick outs. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s a profile that is very common throughout the organization.

The thing that separates Kuhl from other sinkerball pitchers is his four-seam fastball. He consistently has been hitting 96-97 MPH with the pitch over the last two years. He still primarily relies on the sinker, but having another fastball that can reach upper 90s can definitely help, and the change in speeds could even allow his 90-93 MPH sinker play up.

One problem for Kuhl is the lack of a good out pitch. He focused on his slider development a lot in 2015, and went from the point of not being confident with the pitch early in the season, to getting some outs at the end of the season. His second half was amazing, with a 1.83 ERA from mid-June to the end of the year, with even better results in July, when he only allowed four extra base hits all month. He eventually moved up to Indianapolis for the Triple-A playoffs.

Kuhl drew the attention of several rival scouts this year, and the Pirates showed how much they liked him by holding him back from potential trades, instead being willing to deal guys who were rated higher than him coming into the season. He’s got the upside to be a starter in the majors, with a very effective sinker that has generated 58% ground balls over the last two seasons. If the slider develops into an out pitch, and he learns how to effectively use his four seam fastball, he could become a sleeper number three option.

Kuhl should jump to Indianapolis at the start of the 2016 season, pitching out of the rotation. He’s got a chance to make the majors at some point this year as a depth option. The Pirates have a lot of quality starting options, which could hold him back from a future in their rotation. However, if the stuff beyond the sinker continues to develop, he’d end up a guy who could force his way into the mix.

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49 COMMENTS

  1. He was terrible in his playoff start. Hope that was just a blip. Just one bad game, but the biggest start of the year.

    • Are you talking about Kuhl for Indy?? He went seven strong innings only allowing one run (a solo shot). I would say that’s the opposite of terrible for his first Triple-A start (and an elimination game to boot).

      • Altoona playoff start was very shaky.
        I was at that game, and ironically it was the only game of the series that Altoona won.

  2. IMO, we will learn a lot about Kuhl’s prospect status this season as I believe that the hardest minor league jump for a pitcher is the one from AA to AAA. The one disclaimer I would give him is that he is not a pitcher you really worry about going to Super 2, he is not going to break the bank so to speak. If he is able to show in ST that he is a better pitching option than Locke or Vogelsong, I believe that he should be given the chance to break camp with the Pirates. Now to be realistic, there is no way I think even for a second that that will happen, but I am saying it should in that scenario. Its not like if Glasnow outpitches those two, there is less than 0% chance that Glasnow would go North with the Pirates.

  3. As a followup – and for Tim and/or John…

    Really enjoyed the Prospect Guide – and after reading it – and thinking about it I came to a “hypothesis”.

    As a general rule the Pirates prefer to develop players slowly and are not inclined to challenge them by pushing them ahead and seeing what they are capable of doing – how fast they can learn and adjust to higher levels.

    There are some exceptions to this I am sure – but it seems like Kuhl is a good example of someone who other organizations might push a bit to see if he could be a “serviceable” back of rotation ML starter in 2016,

    Meadows is another. Some organizations – the Cubs come to mind – might be willing to push him a bit harder – if he is “Major League Ready” in 2016 that would seem to open some options – trade chip or create a trade opportunity. He certainly seems to have the defensive tools to play in the Majors now – and has for average and some power.

    • How fast they are moved should and does have a lot to do with need. Kuhl has been on a fasttrack, and although I thought he should have been promoted to AAA last year, the need for the system was for him to remain at AA. Other teams promote faster due to need and holes needing to be filled.

      A more deliberate SP transition to the majors was set to begin in 2015, but injuries took that away. 2016 should be very different, and I would not be surprised to see 3 SP’s advance from AAA to the Pirates during the season. I think the Pirates have enough to get through April and May with the present Rotation, but young, fresh arms could be very welcome by June, and there is nothing wrong with getting some of these kids some innings out of the BP or spot starts.

      • That first sentence might be about as close to the DL strategy as id ever want to get. How fast a player moves up should almost never have to do with team need. Otherwise we ignore his actual progression of skills and instead move him up if he even hints of good stats because “well, we suck at his spot in the bigs”.

        Dont promote this kid until he’s actually ready to be a good ML arm, and right now he’s increased slider quality away from that. If the slider doesnt get better by June, no reason to promote him.

      • Because you want to win the World Series. Develop him in a way that is focused on getting him better, faster and to the Majors as soon as possible. Use him in a trade to fill a need if you don’t need him in Pittsburgh. If he is major league ready in 2016 he will have more value than if he is “parked” at Altoona for a year – that is the baseball side.

        The personal side is these guys are young, competitive and have dreamed of playing in the Majors from little league. Encourage that and use it – don’t tell them, Sorry, you will have to wait until we have and opening.

        If I were a young player drafted by the Pirates and had to choose between signing and knowing that they would prefer to develop me in a way that is driven by need – not my ability, I am pretty sure I would take that college scholarship and say no thanks.

        I would wager that Bell signed with the Bucs for TWO reasons – the first being a lot of money, but he also knew he would be going to a team with tons of needs – which should get him to the Show faster.

  4. After getting through the Prospect Guide and thinking about the dumpster pickups to this point I was curious to see how Tim framed this discussion.

    I was hoping he might see a more aggressive approach – getting Kuhl into the Pirate rotation early – he seems to be a better alternative to some the ‘high upside’ signings.

    I would LOVE to see the Bucs really give a long hard look at Kuhl in Spring Training and give him a real shot at filling in the back of the rotation. They would probably want to keep him down until the end of March to get the added year – but would not worry about Super Two.

  5. Here’s a guy who really took full advantage of the opportunity given to him, and now he is close to knocking on the door of the majors – seemingly, and maybe just temporarily, passing up injured and more highly touted prospects like Taillon, Kingham, Sadler, and Holmes.

    • Don’t know that he has passed those others, but he is my “sleeper” prospect that could really help the Pirates in their transition year of 2016. He has posted a combined 2 year record of 25 – 10 in Hi A and AA, and I do not remember any Pirate prospect having those type numbers since Ian Snell about 15 years ago – he was 26 – 10 in Hi A and AA.

      If Kuhl comes out strong, I hope they do not stumble with promoting him. Sometimes the club insists on a full year at each stop, but this kid, as you have said, has taken full advantage of the opportunity presented. I think his achievements over the past 2 years, combined with the promise of Glasnow and Taillon, may have been a part of the decision of the Pirates not to pursue expensive FA SP’s, and to trade some others.

      • Seems like he’s destined to get a full year almost by lack of rotation slots. Unless Glasnow looks terrible, he’s likely first man up for a shot come June to take over a rotation spot. At that point, you’ve got Locke as the “worst” and Taillon with an innings build up.

        Kuhl seems destined to spot start for depth and get the bulk of his time in AAA, which might be a good thing for the development of his slider.

        • Based on my extensive knowledge of pitching, I would guarantee that Glasnow won’t be done developing until June 19.
          Kuhl, on the other hand, is the type of pitcher that could get an April/May call up – if there is a need. Kind of like the Cumpton/Sadler role of the past few years. He can “get away with” the sinker for a period of time and fill the gap until Glasnow is ready.

          • Right, thats what i meant. Kuhl and Williams are the early season guys available for spot starts. Kuhl seems like a guy who could fill that role fine thanks to a profile that already fits our team well (lotta GBs, dont walk people)

            • You and Rich are both right and this kid has really opened some eyes in-house, and around the rest of MLB. I think he could also fill a RP role if that is the job that is available. He’s a gamer and seems to understand what it takes to be a winner. He came out of college and did not even make the All-Conference Team. Somebody did a great job of scouting.

  6. Would be nice to see the budget conscious Buccos be able to constantly have 3 or 4 arms in the rotation coming from within. The Rays have found a way to make it happen..I’m hopeful we will eventually start seeing that as well.

  7. I still see back end relief arm written all over him. Upper 90s 4 seamer, quality sinker. You develop that slider to an effective out pitch and he’s a legit reliever.

      • Kuhl’s got a much better arm, and if he develops that slider, I think, could be a better overall reliever, but Hughes’s sinker is probably a good deal better than Kuhl’s at generating ground balls. Hughes has a very specific skill, and he’s amazing at that skill. Kuhl’s good at it, but he’s no Hughes.

      • Different endpoints imo. As was pointed out below, it seems like Hughes has a better sinker but clearly nowhere near the FB velo on the 4 seam.

        That, for me, gives Kuhl far more upside. You move a guy like Kuhl to the pen, he’s now got a 4 seamer at 97 velo with a decent sinker to keep hitters off balance. He’s an out pitch away from having far better pure stuff than Hughes.

          • And with that, allow the sinker to really not have to be elite like Hughes. Guy throwing 98 doesnt have to throw the sinker in an elite way, but solid enough to keep that hitter off balance if he sits on the 4 seamer. Gotta have the out pitch though.

  8. I think Kuhl has tremendous upside the big league club. If he can get his slider working with the 4 seam and sinker… behind our defense he could hit a #3 with upside if a changeup gets added in later.

      • But that’s an exceptional case. It’s far more likely Kuhl needs at least that slider and maybe even a changeup to be an effective Major League starter. You’ve got the occasional Bartolo Colon in the league who can throw fastballs 90% of the time and get outs, but no matter how good the fastball, that’s just not the case for most guys.

        • asking him to develop two major league quality pitches at this stage might be a tall order, I don’t get why the curve is not push more, is not a change but it does change speeds more than a slider, but i’ll take a slider if he could improve, having pitches that break to both sides could be enough

          • Pitching in the Major Leagues is a tall order. Getting Major League hitters–especially opposite-handed hitters–out with just a fastball and a sinker seems to be an even taller order, certainly especially for a starter.

            The slider is a bare minimum. If he can get lefties out with a 4-seam/slider combination, then he won’t need a changeup. But the sinker has massive platoon splits across the league, so he’ll need at least something else to attack lefties with.

              • That’s what always did Morton in. The curve was good enough when he commanded it, but he too seldom commanded it. But he’s a really good example of exactly why Kuhl needs a consistent slider.

                I always wondered why Chuck didn’t throw his splitter more, though. The pitch looked sharp every time he threw it, but he only threw one or two a game. And he seemed to be more inclined to throw it to righties, too, at least to my eye. Confidence in that pitch against lefties could have boosted his value a lot, too.

        • Hughes doesn’t have the heat or additional pitches. If Kuhl can even get his slider to be more effective and pairing that with 98 heat and sinker he could be a 2 or 3. Lots of if’s but seems to have a solid head on his shoulders and doesn’t get rattled easily like Morton did.

        • haha, no…you are right. Maddux also threw almost all fastballs, as did Brandon Webb. My point isn’t that you can get by with a fastball, cause i really don’t think you can, but i DO think you can get by with JUST an exceptional sinker…… one thing I don’t know, is how good Kuhl’s sinker is, so I’d rely on Tim for it. If its a great sinker in terms of movement and he can control it so he doesn’t walk people and its effective vs lefty or righties………then a slider would probably only make him more hittable.

          • Sinkers, even great sinkers, have big platoon splits. Pitchers simply cannot rely on a sinker exclusively if they’re going to face opposite-handed batters. You’re more likely to get by on a just a great 4-seam fastball than just a great sinker, not the other way around.

            Sinkerballers need other pitches to be effective in the Majors. There is no such thing as a one-pitch starter, and two-pitch starters are even rare. There’s a reason for that.

            And there is no way adding a slider (or any other pitch) will make Kuhl more hittable. That’s not how that works. Pitching is about interrupting timing and rhythm, and the more different pitches (assuming they’re Major League quality), the better a pitcher can do that. If Kuhl develops a Major League quality slider, he’ll be a better pitcher. If he doesn’t, he’s probably a reliever at best with no shot of sticking in a starting rotation.

  9. Let’s hope the old saying is true. “It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for”. Sounds like another good prospect in AAA.

  10. His BB% is also pretty good, sitting below 7%, but given his reliance on the sinker, I wonder about his splits. Getting that slider working and maybe adding a changeup he could play off the 4-seamer would fix that, and even if it’s not an issue now, it’s something to worry about in the Majors.

    If he can get that slider going and get his K% up over 20% without sacrificing the walks or ground balls, he could have a nice career. But with his K% sitting at about 16% right now, getting over 20% is asking a lot.

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