Nick Kingham is on the Pirates’ Conservative Path Back From Tommy John

BRADENTON, Fl. – Nick Kingham sort of becomes a forgotten man in the Pirates’ system. He’s currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but doesn’t have the upside that Tyler Glasnow or Jameson Taillon have, which means his rehab won’t get the attention that Taillon’s received last year. He’s got more upside than Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, and Trevor Williams, but isn’t healthy like those guys. The combination means that he gets left out of a lot of future rotation discussions.

The Pirates have been conservative bringing pitchers back from Tommy John, going beyond the 12 month recovery time that had become standard in the past. That looks to be the same approach with Kingham this year. He had Tommy John at the end of last May, and will probably be back a little beyond the 12 month mark in 2016. Thus, he likely won’t be in the picture for the 2016 rotation depth.

“I think that’s kind of what we’re leaning towards right now, 12 months pushing up to May,” Kingham said of his eventual return. “I don’t know for sure when I’ll be facing hitters, but I think it’s going to be a little later. Bullpens being hopefully next month. Not full bullpens, just getting off the slope and getting the angle. As of right now, I think it’s leaning a little over a year, but I have no certainty for that.”

Kingham has been in Bradenton for most of the last year since undergoing the surgery. He went home for the holidays in December, but has been here ever since. He has already built up to 120 feet in his throwing program, and now the progression is about building up how many days a week he throws. He got up to 120 feet, four days a week, but is currently in a two-week down period where he only extends out to 90 feet on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

“I think we’re the first group to implement that,” Kingham said of the down period. “They’re always tweaking it, trying to make some stuff different, make it better. Me and Justin Topa are the first ones to really do that progression. I’m a fan of it. It’s nice to have that little break in there.”

Next week, Kingham will go back to 120 feet, and extend to throwing five days a week. He expects to start throwing six days a week around the start of March, with bullpens possibly starting shortly after that. That also might be when he starts throwing his off-speed stuff, as he’s only throwing fastballs right now.

“I’ve only had maybe three weeks of flat grounds, so I won’t start [off-speed pitches] until after I start off the mound,” Kingham said. “I think I’ll stay fastballs until after I throw off the bump a little bit.”

The Pirates typically have their rehabbing pitchers spend time focusing on mechanics or specific pitches as they build back up. Kingham has been focusing on the mechanics, which is a good thing, since he struggled a bit with his control and command in the year leading up to the surgery.

“Just making my arm as efficient as I can,” Kingham said about the focus during his rehab. “Trying to make it repeatable. Just really clean and crisp. Nothing major, just real crisp mechanics is the main focus.”

Since Kingham won’t start throwing bullpens until sometime in March, he will end up being about a month behind the other pitchers in Spring Training. The Pirates have been cautious in the past year with their other Tommy John rehab guys, which means Kingham will probably be on a slower pace in building up with his bullpens, live batting practices, and eventual rehab games. This all makes it unlikely that he’d return at the one year mark or earlier.

Don’t expect him to play a role in the MLB depth during the 2016 season, but don’t forget about him as an option for 2017 and beyond. Prior to the Tommy John surgery, he looked like one of the top options who would have arrived in Pittsburgh in 2015. If it wasn’t for the surgery, he might have arrived in August when A.J. Burnett went down. And that might have put him in line to begin the 2016 season in the MLB rotation. A future in the Pirates rotation is definitely still possible for Kingham, but you can expect the Pirates to be conservative with his rehab in the short-term, in order to preserve his upside for the long-term.

  • 2019 rotation of

    Could potentially be pretty formidable.

    • So we’ve dealt Cole for a boatload of prospects by then? Who knows how the new CBA will work out, but if there are still comp picks I’d be inclined to keep Cole for one last one and just take the comp pick.

      • I believe if Cole doesn’t extend, which I think we all assume won’t happen, then he’s traded before his walk year. I think it all depends on how comfortable the Pirates are heading into a season with Glasnow and Taillon spearheading the rotation. Why we would you let Cole walk for just a late comp pick, when you could get several prospects for him that are better than the comp pick? I understand the idea of giving it one more good run, but I’d prefer ever hear to have to the potential to be a good run, and you get there by dealing players with only a year left from positions of strength, like pitching and the outfield.

  • [Kingham has] got more upside than Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, and Trevor Williams….

    I’m not convinced Kingham has a higher ceiling than Kuhl. A mid-90’s sinker is a potent weapon.

    • I was about to post the same thing as a question–Tim, what gives Kingham more upside than Kuhl? Or could this be a case of still getting our minds around the improvement Kuhl showed last year? Don’t they both have the upside of a solid mid-rotation starter?

      • Kuhl could eventually be a terrific RP also. Think Zach Britton and that 98 mph sinker. Not easy to handle for even the best hitters.

      • Too impressed by the radar gun. Kingham misses bats, and all the ground balls in the world and high radar guns don’t make up for that.

        • That extra 0.7 K/9 (Kingham’s K rate in 2014 was 6.7/9, Kuhl’s K rate last year was 6.0/9) makes all the difference, huh? And Kuhl actually had the better K/BB rate in their most recent complete seasons (probably because when you’re a groundball pitcher you don’t need to go deep in counts).

          • Yes, because you should absolutely analyze guys by cherry picking only the stats that fit your narrative.

            • Not cherry picking at all, in fact the opposite–just trying to compare apples with apples by using their most recent complete seasons. See I think using Kingham’s K rate from 2013, which is when he burst on to everyone’s radar, is too outdated. Even that year his rate dropped by 1 K/9 when he went to AA and then the following year it dropped another 2 K/9.

              Someone could argue that those drops were due to his injury, but I need to be convinced that it wasn’t the start of a trend by seeing him put up big K numbers when he returns. Of course I’d love to see that. (Note that I’m not using his 31 IP in 2015 as a data due to SSS as I think that would cherry picking.)

              • You can believe whatever the hell you want to, but I *promise* this isn’t the way you evaluate and compare two prospects.

      • See above.

      • I’d say their ceilings might be #2 starters, their feasible accomplishments may be #3 starters and their floors #4 or #5 starters or high-leverage relievers.

        • That’s my impression too from what I’ve read on this site (so I’m in the strange position of questioning Tim’s opinion when much of my info has come from Tim’s analysis :)).

    • Kingham has a fastball that sits 93-95 and touches as high as 98, with good downward movement. He also has a better changeup than Kuhl and a better breaking pitch.

      • A glance back to the 2015 Guide? He has progressed steadily up the rankings, and had very strong numbers the first part of AAA and then the Command left late in the season. Could that have been the start of the problems that resulted in the TJ shutdown in early 2015?

        Before the back end of that 2014 season, he had developed to where he was close to having 3 plus pitches with very good Command. Whether Kingham or Kuhl, the Bucs have sure done very well – a 4th Rounder in 2010, and a 9th Rounder in 2013 that combined to cost the Bucs only $625K. Great work by the Scouts and then the developmental personnel.

        • I think the command problems are related, but there’s no way to know for sure. Either way, he’s working to clean up the mechanics, so hopefully those issues don’t return when he returns.

      • I focused on ceiling for both pitchers, not current ability. One might claim that Kingham sits closer to his perceived ceiling than Kuhl, assuming he returns to form after his rehab, but not that his ceiling is higher than Kuhl’s. Kuhl may fail to improve his secondary pitches, thus revealing a lower ceiling than Kingham’s. But, so far as I know, we currently have no reason to believe he will fail to achieve these improvements. Kuhl’s plus fastballs and command indicate potential.

        Kuhl has already surpassed the value assigned to him by his draft slot and the reasons he fell to the 9th round. What we do not know are the additional improvements he will make. It’s not unreasonable to expect additional improvements given shat we have seen so far.

      • You recently wrote that Kuhl “was sitting mid-90’s and touching 97-98 on a regular basis in the second half this year.” And you noted that was the two-seamer (“pretty special”). You went on to comment that “It wasn’t just the fastball velocity that opened eyes for rival scouts. It was also the improvement on the slider.”

        So I’m having trouble seeing why their upsides differ. I understand that Kuhl might have more work to do to continue the improvement on his slider and his “next focus” the changeup, but you can’t teach velocity so I’m thinking his upside is very comparable to Kingham’s. (And that doesn’t even factor in the quote John reported from a rival scout that Kuhl may be the best of our pitching prospects.)

  • Sounds like he would be on path to be starting in Indy in July when
    we may have some “openings” in our starting pitcher corps there.

    • Every time I see your screen name, I think “I should listen to Dr. Dog”.

      • You should!

        • I will when it’s nicer out. Dr. Dog really does fit this cold weather. I’ve been super obsessed Sigur Ros, Explosions In The Sky and all things Justin Vernon lately.

      • Wow! What an eclectic bunch of guys. I thought most of you were stat geek nutso crazies. Again Wow! Dr. Dog. I looked at that but didn’t want to get blasted by someone for anything inconsequential ramblings.

        • On top of being a passionate baseball fan, I collect vinyl records. Before I was married, I had about 5,000 DVDs and CDs too but my wife’s compromise was that I could keep the vinyl if I digitized the DVDs and CDs.

  • The Pirates will sure have one of the those “Good problems to have” starting in 2017. Should be lots of quality arms in the mix and only so many slots available to put them…

    • And dirt cheap arms to boot

    • Let’s hope all of those TJ surgeries are successful. Fact is, 1 in 10, the pitcher doesn’t come back to where he was.

      • I’m going to be the “glass is half full guy” and hope that the pirates beat those odds haha…

      • …so they will have at least two fails in their nearly 20 guys who have had it the last year or so.

    • Unless something goes very wrong, they’ll have no reason to Pay Jon Niese beyond this year.

      • But they may want to if he puts up 2+ fWAR as he did in 4 of the last 5 years…

        • Why? What possible reason would they have to pay a guy that much money for production they should be getting for league minimum?

          This makes absolutely zero sense.