Could Nick Kingham be in the 2018 Opening Day rotation?

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

It is possible that one of the Pirates’ top pitching prospects could start the 2018 season in the Major League rotation despite having never pitched above the Triple-A level

Right-handed pitcher Nick Kingham has long been one of the top pitching prospects of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 2010 fourth-round draft pick is a former top-100 prospect who has fallen in prospect rankings, but not due to anything he has done wrong.

When the 2015 season began Nick Kingham appeared to be on the doorstep of the Major Leagues. He appeared primed to make a summer debut as Gerrit Cole did in 2013 and Jameson Taillon would go on to do in 2016. However, injuries would then begin to get in the way.

After having Tommy John Surgery, Nick Kingham pitched in a combined 16 games in 2015 and 2016. Kingham, however, bounced back in 2017 with a healthy and strong season for the Indianapolis Indians. Now, once again, he appears to be on the doorstep of the Major Leagues.

In 2017, Kingham pitched in 20 games for the Indianapolis Indians with 19 being starts. He logged 113 1/3 innings allowing 119 hits, eight home runs, and he generated a 45.1 percent groundball rate. He averaged just 2.30 BB/9, he struck out 93 batters (7.39 K/9), and he finished the season with a 4.13 ERA and a 3.59 FIP.

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A lot of people, myself included, expect Kingham to earn a September call-up this past season. This did not happen, though. Following the Indianapolis Indians’ departure from the International League Postseason, Kingham was shut down for the season.

The Pirates cited workload as the reason Nick Kingham was shut down. This makes sense as Kingham had pitched 118 1/3 regular season innings between High-A and Triple-A in 2017, as well as making a postseason start, after pitching just 77 1/3 innings combined in 2015 and 2016. Factor in a past history of elbow issues and there was no need to overwork or tax Kingham’s right arm in 2017.

Now, let’s skip ahead to Spring Training 2018.

Nick Kingham appears to be out of options. This means he has to make the Pirates’ 25-man roster out of Spring Training or the Bucs will risk losing him on waivers. Same as Alen Hanson this past spring.

However, due to his injuries and missing seasons in the past, he might be eligible for a fourth option. Our friend Jake Smails at Cannonball Corner takes a look at that here.

If Nick Kingham is eligible for a fourth option then the decision of what to do with him is a no brainer, have him start the 2018 season in the Indianapolis rotation. However, if he is not, things then become more clouded.

There is no way the Pirates will risk losing him on waivers. He has been too highly thought of for too long for them to not give him a shot in the Major Leagues. What would this role be for Kingham, though?

While he has been a starting pitcher his entire professional career and has the all the tools needed to be a very good Major League starting pitcher, does the Pirate rotation have room for him? Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Ivan Nova are locked into the 2018 rotation. Trevor Williams did nothing in 2017 that would warrant him not starting the 2018 season in the rotation, and the Pirates remain high on Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault who both flashed in 2017.

Nick Kingham could always start 2018 in the bullpen. The Pirates could also move Kuhl to the bullpen in a similar role that Chad Green has for the New York Yankees. Also, the Bucs could always look to trade Brault, Kuhl, Nova, Williams, or some combination of the group to try and address other needs such as third base or the bullpen.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as scouts around baseball, have been very high on Nick Kingham for a long time. Regardless of which organization it is with, Kingham will make his Major League debut at some point in 2018 and there is a possibility that it could come as part of the Pirates’ 2018 Opening Day starting rotation.