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Colorado Rockies prospects: No. 20, Karl Kauffmann

The Rockies challenged the righty in 2021, and it had mixed results

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20. Karl Kauffmann (169 points, 17 ballots)

In 2021, Karl Kauffmann finally made his professional debut. It had been nearly two years since the 24-year-old was picked 77th overall in 2019 and signed for a slot $800k bonus. The 6’2” right-hander had been given the rest of 2019 off after serving as one of two primary starting pitchers on a Michigan team that finished as the runner-up in the College World Series. Then in 2020, the Rockies clearly prioritized Kauffmann in their thought process by assigning him to their alternate site above similarly pedigreed players like fellow PuRP Mitchell Kilkenny. However, the experience was abbreviated by a shoulder injury.

To begin 2021, the Rockies assigned Kauffmann straight to High-A Spokane, where he was age-appropriate relative to level. Kauffmann only had two starts in High-A, pitching 9 1⁄3 innings and allowing three runs on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts. From there, the Rockies promoted Kauffmann up to Double-A Hartford, where he was about 1.7 years younger than league average.

In Hartford, Kauffmann got knocked around quite a bit. In 82 innings across 19 appearances, Kauffmann posted a 7.35 ERA and 2.00 WHIP with a 7.1 K/9 rate and 4.5 BB/9 rate. Kauffmann’s 5.03 xFIP and .379 BABIP indicate he was unfortunate to receive those results, but those aren’t good numbers at an aggressive assignment. Kauffmann’s last five starts were much better, in which he lowered his ERA from 9.05 to 7.35 across 28 13 frames (3.77 ERA during that stretch).

Here’s some video of Kauffmann from April 2019 with UM courtesy of 2080 Baseball:

Fangraphs ranked Kauffmann 26th in the system in January with a 40 FV grade:

Kauffmann is a one-seam sinker/changeup righty with a pretty firm, inconsistent mid-80s slider. That 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 at all that summer, and a shoulder injury limited his alternate site activity to about 50 total pitches across two outings late in the summer of ’20. He had the kind of year you’d expect a fairly experienced big-school sinkerballer to have in A-ball. Kauffmann threw an above-average rate of strikes, got an above-average rate of groundballs, and missed a below-average rate of bats with his low-90s sinker. He mixes in two- and four-seam variants with his mid-80s sliders and changeups. He’s tracking like a backend starter fit for Coors.

Keith Law of the Athletic listed Kauffmann as one of his others of note in his top 20 Rockies overview:

Right-hander Karl Kauffmann is a sinker/slider guy who hadn’t pitched since he was drafted in 2019, between his huge workload at Michigan (130 innings that spring) and the pandemic. He went to Double-A after two starts and got hammered, as his slider backed up and he didn’t use his changeup much. I’d like to see him repeat that level after a normal offseason to see if the stuff comes back to where it was in college

MLB.com places Kauffmann 28th in the organization in their mid-season 2021 list:

While [Kauffmann] hasn’t missed a ton of bats, he commands his low 90s two-seam fastball very well, maintaining his velocity throughout starts and throwing the pitch with very good run and sink. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, an above-average offering that features similar sink, but that he separates well from his fastball and sells with arm speed. He’ll get his slider up to 86 mph and it isn’t as consistent a weapon, but when it’s firm it flashes above-average.

The right-hander got better at finding the strike zone over his three years at Michigan and he gets high marks for his competitiveness on the mound. He just needs to get out and pitch, with a ceiling as a workhorse starter and a floor of a reliever who can come in and get ground ball outs.

It’s clear from reading the scouting reports that Kauffmann has an advanced approach that belongs at a minimum in the upper minors, though the results weren’t there for him in 2021. He enters 2022 as a player looking to get a 40-man roster slot at the end of the season. The Rockies could either have Kauffmann repeat in Double-A (my preference) or challenge him further in Triple-A. Overall, the combination of pedigree, likely starting role, and scouting reports led me to rank Kauffmann 26th in the system with a 40 FV grade.