27. Mitchell Kilkenny (67 points, 10 ballots)
Mitchell Kilkenny hasn’t had a charmed start to his professional career. The 6’3” pitcher was Colorado’s second rounder (76th overall) in 2018 and had worked his way up from a walk-on to the number one starter for Texas A&M. Though he lacked overwhelming stuff, the right-hander possessed good command/polish and seemed like a potential quick mover into the back end of a big league rotation. Then came the post-draft physical.
Kilkenny was found to need Tommy John surgery immediately, which led to an under-slot signing bonus ($550k, roughly 70% of slot) and a full year of rehab. As a result, Kilkenny entered 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, his professional debut in June 2019 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.
Still, that debut hasn’t been enough to put Kilkenny on the radar of scouts looking at Colorado’s system, nor did Kilkenny get placed in Colorado’s alternative site during 2020 like similarly drafted right-hander Karl Kauffmann (the 77th overall pick a year later than Kilkenny). Furthermore, the 23-year-old wasn’t sent to fall instructs either. There really hasn’t been a peep out there as to why this might be, leaving the PuRP electorate questioning how the Rockies feel about their former second rounder.
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 after the 2019 season:
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.
MLB.com ranked Kilkenny 83rd in his draft class, though Kilkenny isn’t currently in their top 30 list:
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 eight ball and makes him less probable as a big league contributor. The Rockies certainly haven’t indicated he’s an organizational priority even as they have made it clear that Kauffmann is, and the scouts (by not ranking him) don’t seem to be Kilkenny believers right now either.
That lack of organizational or scouting noise is why Kilkenny fell off my list this time around, though he was certainly in contention for those last few slots as a 35 FV player. Hopefully Kilkenny will be assigned to full season ball in 2021 so we can get some more up to date information on just where he slots in the organization.