Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
You’ve probably never heard of Tommy Kahnle. That’s o.k., because I had barely heard of the pitcher before spring training. I had to use this boring photo shoot picture because, frankly, there weren’t any other pictures to use. So Tommy Kahnle is definitely not on the radar of most fans. But he should be, because he could have a big impact in the bullpen this year. And because I somehow feel it is my duty, I’m going to introduce you to Tommy Kahnle.
Tommy Kahnle is actually a pretty good pitcher. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 draft by the New York Yankees out of baseball powerhouse Lynn University (not really: it is in Division II. To be fair, it is a D-II powerhouse). Over the course of four seasons in the Yankee organization, Kahnle, now 24, slowly moved up from level to level. In those four years across three levels of A ball and AA, where he pitched last season, Tommy Kahnle has a cumulative 3.07 ERA. He has pitched 214 innings strictly in relief, and has given up just eight homers. He has allowed just six hits per nine innings in his career. Last year, he had a 2.85 ERA and struck out 74 hitters in 60 innings while saving 15 games. It looked as if he would move up to AAA in the Yankee system this year, with a good chance of making it to the Major Leagues at some time late this year. But that’s not the way it turned out. The Yankees decided against adding Kahnle to their 40-man roster, and the Rockies then selected him in the Rule 5 draft. If you aren’t familiar with the Rule 5 draft, the basic premise is that a selected player must stay on the Major League roster for the entire year. Otherwise, the team must offer the player back to his previous team. If the Rockies want to keep Kahnle, which I assume they do, the must keep him on their 25-man roster for the entire season. Now that I have given you some Tommy Kahnle background, can he stay on the Rockie roster for the entire 2014 season?
I’ve shown you some Tommy Kahnle stats, but I haven’t told you much about the 24 year old as a pitcher. Kahnle has a great fastball, consistently hitting the upper 90s and even reaching triple digits at times. He also has shown great strikeout stuff, with 285 career strikeouts, or a full 12.0 per nine innings in his career. Hey, this guy looks pretty good, right? He keeps the ball in the park, if 24 years old, throws in triple digits, and is a strikeout pitcher! Why didn’t the Yankees make it a priority to hold onto him? I’ll tell you why: it’s his control. Kahnle’s off-speed stuff is very much a work in progress. He has a slider and a change-up, but neither are great pitches and Kahnle has had a tough time locating those pitches. As a result, he walked 45 guys in 60 innings last year, which is frightening. That wasn’t a fluke, either, as Kahnle has a career rate of 5.2 walks per nine innings. I guess that’s why the Yankees didn’t add him to the 40-man roster.
Back to the original question: Can Tommy Kahnle stay on the Rockie roster for the entire 2014 season? I’m strangely optimistic. Kahnle has his strengths (hard thrower, strikeouts, ability to keep the ball in the park, the fact that he is 24) and he has his weaknesses (control, lack of secondary pitches), but he has shown the ability to work around walks in the Minor Leagues. The MLB is a totally different animal, and Kahnle will likely have to lower his walk rate at least a little if he wants to have any success at the highest level. But Kahnle has the stuff and the ability to stay in the Rockies bullpen for the whole season. The Rockies can definitely always use pitching help.