Heading into 2015, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ number 17 prospect was pitcher Chad Kuhl, a bit of a surprise find in the 9th round of the draft back in 2013. Now, Kuhl has a chance to be the first player from that round to make the major leagues; he received an invite to major league spring training in 2016.
In his first season – with Jamestown in Low-A – Kuhl opened eyes by posting a 2.11 ERA in 13 starts. If that number isn’t impressive enough for a 20 year old in his first professional season, allowing zero home runs and just six walks is.
Kuhl doesn’t throw particularly hard – his fastball sits in the low 90’s – so he doesn’t rely on the strikeout for success. Instead, he forces groundballs with his offspeed pitches and doesn’t allow free baserunners. In his 67 career starts, Kuhl hasn’t allowed a walk in 19 of them (that’s almost a third).
As he’s gotten older, his slider and other breaking pitches have begun to trouble minor league hitters but are still mostly unfinished goods. Kuhl really excelled in 2014 with Bradenton, posting a 13-5 record despite some unattractive peripherals.
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In 2015, Kuhl continued to impress at the next level, this time in Double-A Altoona. To go with his 11-5 record, Kuhl posted a 2.48 ERA in 26 starts but he took it to another level in the second half of the season. In his final 14 starts, Kuhl went 7-2 and in nine of those starts, allowed one or zero runs. Sorting by Game Score on baseball-reference.com, Kuhl made 8 of his 10 best starts in the second half of 2015.
That performance earned Kuhl a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis, where he took the opportunity to pitch in a playoff game and ran with it.
Kuhl will be in major league camp come spring but I still expect him to start the season back in Indianapolis. He may be able to add some velocity to his fastball this season but more importantly, his slider and changeup need a bit more time before being MLB-ready. Since his fastball doesn’t really earn him strikeouts, his breaking stuff will be even more important in the majors. The Pirates will be in no rush to get him to Pittsburgh until he can get major leaguers out with them.