The Pittsburgh Pirates are expected to start right-handed pitching prospect Chad Kuhl against Clayton Kershaw and the L.A. Dodgers.
This will be quite the test for the Kuhl’s major league debut. Kuhl, who was a ninth round in 2013 out of the University of Delaware, ranks as the Pittsburgh Pirates number 16 prospect. Kuhl is a 6’3” and 215 pound right-handed pitcher. He has steadily climbed up the Pittsburgh Pirates prospect boards since being drafted as a ninth round pick. Most later round picks never make it into top 20 prospect status, but Kuhl has done so by being consistent every year. For his career he owns a 2.79 ERA in 81 starts. He also owns a solid strikeout to walk ratio of 2.80 strikeouts for every one walk.
What makes Kuhl so effective is that he limits walks and is able to generate ground balls. His ground-out to air-out ratio in triple-A is at 1.50 on the year. This means he gets 1.5 ground outs before letting up a fly out. For comparison, Charlie Morton who is widely known as a ground-ball pitcher had a career 1.58 GO/AO rate in the minors. Kuhl has strong command of the strike-zone and works the ball down in the zone to get efficient outs. This is the Pirates pitching philosophy and that is what has led him to the success he has had in the minors.
Kuhl will provide quality depth for the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching rotation. He will never be an elite arm necessarily, but he has proven the ability to get batters out consistently and should be able to do the same at the Major League level. His projection would be as a number three starter as he does not have the pure makeup to be a top of the rotation candidate. He has a solid five-pitch mix, including a sinker that sits 93-95 miles per hour, a plus slider, and an average change-up. He also throws a two-seam fastball that sits 93-95 miles per hour, and his four seam fastball can hit as high as 96-97 miles per hour.
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This year at Triple-A Kuhl started off dominant. Through May 21st he had a ERA lower than 1.00. He was bound to come back to earth a little, as usually these things end up evening themselves out. There was no way that he would be able to keep dominating the way he was with his style of pitching. Pitching to contact can lead to bad luck games sometimes, as many Pittsburgh Pirates fans know with Chuck Morton. He had three starts in a row in June that he gave up 4 earned runs in each start, over 13 innings pitched. This has caused his ERA to get to a more realistic level at 2.58. His last start a AAA was solid, he threw 5.2 innings and only gave up 2 runs. A more efficient start and what you would expect from a pitcher like Kuhl.
So what can the Pittsburgh Pirates fan base expect from Chad Kuhl? You can expect to see him getting ahead in counts and producing ground-balls will a low amount of strikeouts. In 438 careers innings pitched he has only tallied 293 strikeouts. If Kuhl feels the pressure of his first career start and falls behind batters he could run into some trouble.
With all that being said, Kuhl has had success at every level he has pitched, and should be a solid rotation arm at the big league level as well. He will have to make the appropriate adjustments as he gains more exposure at the big league level. It is great to see the second part of the Triple-A three-headed monster get a chance at the big leagues. Hopefully he can help bring some stability to a rotation that has lacked it.