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Colorado Rockies prospects: No. 23, Karl Kauffmann

Kauffman has been aggressively promoted, and might be on the doorstep of the majors

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23. Karl Kauffmann (165 points, 18 ballots)

Though Kauffmann was Rule 5 draft eligible after 2022 (he was un-protected and un-selected), the 25-year-old righty starter has only two professional seasons under his belt. The 77th overall pick in 2019 (slot $800k signing bonus) saw his pro debut delayed by an extended run in the College World Series and then the lost Covid year (and a shoulder injury in the alternate site) in 2020.

In 2021, the 6’2” hurler was assigned straight to High-A, but he only made two starts there before jumping up to Double-A, where Kauffmann was about 1.7 years younger than league average. He was knocked around quite a bit in Hartford (7.35 ERA, 2.00 WHIP), but the aggressive assignment was an indicator of how Kauffmann was valued by the Rockies.

In 2022, Kauffmann was sent back to Hartford (he was 0.5 years younger than league average) and got much better results. He threw 77 23 frames over 15 starts with a 4.06 ERA (3.86 xFIP), 1.35 WHIP, 9.7 K/9 rate, and 3.9 BB/9 rate. That was enough for the Rockies to promote Kauffmann to Triple-A Albuquerque in early July.

Facing hitters who were on average 3.2 years older in one of the most intimidating offensive environments a pitcher can face, Kauffmann was...okay given the circumstances. He started 13 games and pitched 64 innings with a 6.05 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, and 6.3 BB/9 rate against a 8.4 K/9 rate. Between the two levels, Kauffmann soaked up 141 23 innings with a 4.94 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 2022.

All told, it was a good sign Kauffmann was pitching in Albuquerque already, but he didn’t show he’s ready for the next challenge just yet. The Rockies seemed to agree when they didn’t add Kauffmann to the 40-man roster after the season, and the rest of MLB concurred when they didn’t select him in the Rule 5 draft.

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

Fangraphs ranks Kauffmann 27th in the system 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. ... [In his debut season] 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 February 2022 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

Kauffmann is in the upper minors and on the doorstep to the Show because of his advanced approach, though his results weren’t strong in Triple-A in 2022. Colorado’s decision not to add him to the 40-man roster this off-season was a bit surprising and doesn’t reflect well on his prospect stock, but nonetheless Kauffmann has shown the ability to soak up innings and will serve as MLB rotation depth in 2023 should a need arise.

Overall, the combination of pedigree, likely starting role, and proximity to MLB led me to rank Kauffmann just off my list but with a 40 FV grade that suggests he is a prospect to watch in 2023.