The regular season is less than two weeks away, as we continue to break down our Top 20 Pittsburgh Pirates prospect list. Here is number 11 on the list.
Over the last few years, the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system has been considered one of the best in baseball. However, after enjoying a period of playoff baseball, and in turn picking lower in the draft, they have seen their system fall toward the middle of the pack. Still, rankings by scouting websites are not everything. They have plenty of intriguing prospects who could break out just as much as a team with a top farm system.
With that being said, we have come up with our top 20 prospects for the 2018 season. The articles will look at each player, starting at 20 and working toward one. So far we have looked at pitchers Clay Holmes at number 20, Gage Hinsz at number 19, Travis MacGregor at 18, and left-handed starter Braeden Ogle at 17. The first hitter to show up on our count down was Calvin Mitchell at number 16 and Oneil Cruz at number 15. Coming in at number 14 was 2017 draft pick Steven Jennings. Then was is a pair of international prospect in right hander Luis Escobar at number 13 overall and outfielder Lolo Sanchez at number 12. So who is the number 11 ranked prospect on the top 20 list?
Number 11 Overall
At one time, Nick Kingham was considered to be a top 6 or 7 prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. In fact, over the 2014 and 2015 season he was rated a top 100 prospect by major prospect sites. The 6’5” and 225 pound righty was a 2010 draft pick, and was drafted in the fourth round. He pitched at Sierra Vista High School, which is located in Las Vegas. He was originally committed to the University of Oregon, but instead decided to join fellow prep draftee Jameson Taillon. The Bucs paid him a bonus of $485K.
Minor League Numbers
Kingham has enjoyed an overall solid minor league career thus far. He has a minor league record of 41-40 and owns a 3.42 ERA. Over his eight different seasons, Kingham has racked up 699 innings and has punched out 590 hitters while walking 189. He has held batters to a .242 batting average and has a career WHIP of 1.18, so he has done a good job of limiting base runners. While he has done a good job of limiting base runners, he does not get the traditional groundouts that the Pittsburgh Pirates like to see. He has a career groundball rate of around 45 percent for his career, which is not bad, but unspectacular.
Kingham enjoyed his best season in 2013. He started the year in High-A Bradenton. For the Marauders, he made 13 starts and posted 70 innings. Across those starts he put up a strong ERA of 3.09 while holding batters to a .212 batting average and a WHIP south of 1.00. Furthermore, he struck out more hitters than innings pitched, punching out 75 while only walking 14. After dominating High-A, Kingham got the bump to Double-A where he was just as effective. He appeared in 14 games and made 12 starts for the Curve. The then 21-year-old posted a 2.70 ERA. He did this is 73.1 innings, and he racked up another 69 strikeouts, though Kingham saw his walk total go up to 30. Still, it was all around his best season and earned him a spot on the top 100 prospect list the next year.
However, things changed dramatically for the right-handed starter during the 2015 season. Like many young pitchers, Kingham suffered a tear in his UCL which resulted in Tommy-John Surgery. This not only set back his career timeline, as he was knocking on the major league door in 2015, but he also has not been as dominant since. Kingham’s rehab went as planned and he did not have any setbacks. He returned to minor league games part of the way through the 2016 season, pitching a total of 46 innings. These innings were accumulated over three minor league levels, including the Gulf Coast League, High-A Bradenton, and Double-A Altoona. Over the three minor league levels he pitched to a 2.90 ERA, so it seemed that he was rebounding well.
His 2017 season was not as dominant as one would hope, but it was good to see him get through a full season of work post-Tommy John. All in all, he pitched 113.1 innings for Triple-A Indianapolis, making 19 starts and one relief appearance. The Tribe saw him post a 9-6 record and an ERA of 4.13. This was the highest ERA Kingham has posted since his 2012 season. With that being said, his FIP was significantly lower at 3.59, suggesting that he had some shoddy defense behind him. He still showed good command having a 2.30 K/BB ratio. His biggest issue was the inability to punch batters out. His K/9 was 7.3, and if he wants to reach his ceiling that he was once projected to have, Kingham is going to have to start missing more bats.
Kingham had pitched a good bit this spring with the big league club, but he was optioned to minor league camp along with several other players the other day. The Nevada native will head back to the midwest and open the season with Triple-A once more. However, Kingham will no doubt make his big league début with the Pittsburgh Pirates this season.
The début will most likely not come until June, as the Bucs will look to protect the former top 100 prospect from Super-Two status. Meanwhile, they have pitchers like Tyler Eppler and Steven Brault who can fill out rotation spots if an injury occurs. Kingham may not have the same upside that he once had due to Tommy-John and a regression in numbers, but he has a big frame, with a solid fastball that sits 92-94, and a plus curveball. If he can take a step forward in his second full season back, he Kingham could play a factor in the Pirates rotation for a long time.