11. Karl Kauffmann (248 points, 12 ballots)
Karl Kauffmann was the highest drafted player in Colorado’s 2019 class to not play professionally that year, but he had a good reason. That’s because Kauffmann was one of two primary starting pitchers on a Michigan team that finished as the runner-up in the College World Series. In all, he threw 114 2⁄3 innings in 2019 for Michigan with a 2.59 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 7.8 K/9 rate. It’s not surprising then that the Rockies decided to hold out Kauffmann from pro ball in 2019. Unfortunately, due to the cancelation of the 2020 minor league season, Kauffmann still has not yet made his professional debut 18 months later.
In terms of the draft, Kauffmann was the 77th overall pick and an overdraft according to some of the national prospect watchers, who had him outside the top 100. The 6’2”, 23-year-old right-hander signed in early July — the last of Colorado’s draftees to do so — for slot money of just over $800K.
Though he didn’t pitch professionally in 2019, Kauffmann was briefly assigned to Low-A directly to get a feel for that environment. He also spent time in 2020 at the alternate site, another vote of confidence in how the Rockies view him. I expect Kauffmann to begin 2021 in Low-A and move to High-A mid-season (though he could start the year at High-A).
Here’s some video of Kauffmann from April 2019 courtesy of 2080 Baseball:
Kauffmann was outside the top 10 for Baseball Prospectus in their pre-2021 list as a “solid pitching prospect but limited upside”. Here’s Steve Givarz on Kauffmann:
The staff ace of the 2019 College World Series runner-up rode his amateur success into being a Competitive Balance B pick that July. After throwing 114 innings that spring and summer, the Rockies shut [Kauffmann] down in preparation for what was hoped to be a fast-moving pro trajectory in 2020. Since 2020 didn’t happen, the Rockies added him to alternate site to get reps. The profile lacks upside as it doesn’t feature a true out pitch, but instead relies on preventing hard contact and throwing strikes with an above-average fastball and slider.
Kauffmann is 12th on MLB.com’s Rockies org list (he was #110 on their draft list):
Kauffmann lives off of his live fastball and his excellent command of it. He usually throws it in the 91-94 mph range and can reach back and get 96 mph at times, showing an ability to maintain that velocity deep into starts. It has good run and sink and his other pitches play off of that, starting with an above-average changeup that has the same action, but that he separates well from his fastball. His 81-86 mph slider flashes above-average as well, but it’s not as consistent.
Though there is some effort in his delivery, Kauffmann has improved his strike-throwing and the Rockies love his mound presence and competitive nature. They sent him to Asheville last summer just to be around the Minor League game so he can hit the ground running in 2020. He has the chance to be a workhorse starter who keeps a team in games, with a floor as a ground ball-inducing reliever if that doesn’t work.
That evaluation included 55 grades on his fastball and changeup along with 50s on his slider and control.
Kauffmann was ranked 20th in the system by FanGraphs with a FV 40 grade:
Kauffmann is a one-seam sinker/changeup righty with a pretty firm, inconsistent mid-80s slider. A refined slider gives him a good shot to pitch in the back of a rotation. He was used heavily by Michigan during their deep 2019 postseason run, so he didn’t pitch in pro ball last summer.
In a pre-draft report, 2080 Baseball had this to say about Kauffmann:
At his best, Kauffmann attacks with sinkers in the 92-to-94 mph range paired with an above average mid-80s slider that one National League scout said could get major leaguers out now. Seldomly, he’ll mix in a firm 85-to-87 mph changeup that has deceptive arm speed but lacks movement. Kauffmann has flashed the stuff to remain in the rotation as a professional, profiling as a back-end starter.
Looking through the scouting reports, it seems like Kauffmann has an advanced approach that will serve him well in the lower minors—and the Rockies hope he also has success against more advanced competition. Scouts disagree about which of his secondary pitches is better (the slider, probably), but either way Kauffmann will need to improve them to succeed at the higher levels.
Pitching prospects that are a good bet to remain in the starting rotation are rare in Colorado’s system, so Kauffmann is certainly a player to watch moving forward. Overall, the combination of pedigree and scouting led me to rank Kauffmann 15th in the system with a 40 FV grade.