21. Mitchell Kilkenny (152 points, 16 ballots)
Mitchell Kilkenny was both a known and an unknown commodity entering 2019. He was known insofar as the 6’3” hurler had been Colorado’s second rounder in 2018 as a major conference starting pitcher, who had worked his way up from a walk-on to the number one starter for Texas A&M. A pitcher without overwhelming stuff but good command/polish, Kilkenny was likely to fill out the back end of a MLB rotation at his peak.
Then again, Kilkenny was an unknown commodity because the righty was revealed to need Tommy John surgery in his initial physical with the team after being drafted. That info led to an under-slot $550K signing bonus and a year of rehab for the 22-year-old, who therefore came into 2019 hoping to re-establish the profile that had led to his draft status (see this article for more on Kilkenny’s journey to the beginning of his professional career).
Fortunately, the professional debut was pretty successful. About 12 months after his TJ surgery, Kilkenny was assigned to Rookie ball Grand Junction. In 42 innings over 12 starts (77 pitches and 5 innings was his high water mark), Kilkenny showed decently (albeit at an age that was slightly above average for the league) with a 4.50 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 7.9 K/9 rate, and 2.1 BB/9 rate. It was encouraging to see him getting positive results so quickly after TJ, especially considering that many prospects in his situation might not have even returned to the mound at that time.
Here’s some pre-draft video of Kilkenny courtesy of Perfect Game Baseball:
Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus listed Kilkenny as his system Low Minors Sleeper last month:
The command down in the zone of the sinking fastball and slider were solid for a pitcher only a little over a year removed from going under the knife. 2020 will put him over 20 months out TJ, and we’ll have more of an idea of what the stuff will look like going forward with a full-season ball assignment and fewer restrictions on his usage. If the low-90s, touch 95 velocity comes all the way back, Kilkenny profiles as a backend starter or setup man out of the pen.
Kilkenny lacks a plus pitch in his arsenal but is pretty solid across the board with control to match. His fastball operates in the low 90s and tops out at 94 mph, and his sink and downhill plane allow him to pound the bottom of the strike zone. He can throw his low-80s slider for strikes or entice hitters to chase it off the plate, and he does a nice job of locating his average changeup to keep left-handers honest.
Kilkenny has an easy delivery and no trouble repeating it, allowing him to steadily improve his control throughout his college career. He doesn’t have the sexiest ceiling, but he has a high floor as a safe bet to start.
It’s always tricky to rank players who haven’t had a lot of professional experience. As a prospect, Kilkenny is a high-floor/lower ceiling type, but his injury put him behind the developmental 8 ball and makes him less probable as a big league contributor. Kilkenny will probably join fellow major conference second round starter and fellow PuRP Karl Kauffmann (Kilkenny is about three months older) in Low A Asheville next year, where the expectations will ratchet up.
Ultimately I’m a fan of what I see from the tape, Kilkenny’s potential as a back-end starter prospect, and the second round pedigree. That’s why I gave Kilkenny a 40 FV grade and ranked him 24th on my personal ballot.