We are almost to the end of the beginning-of-the-season rookie profiles. As the season progresses, we’ll cover each rookie as they reach the majors. Right now let’s look at Patrick Kivlehan of the Cincinnati Reds.
Kivlehan is currently being used as a pinch-hitter by the Reds. He’s appeared in seven games so far but has started just one of those contests. Right now in those seven games he’s 2-for-10 with five strikeouts. I’m not sure he is well-suited for the pinch-hitter job and I’ll explain why in a moment. First, the background.
Kivelhan was drafted in the fourth round of 2012 by the Seattle Mariners out of Rutgers. He was primarily a football player in college and was considered raw on the baseball diamond, but featured impressive power as well as some speed and defensive potential. His 2013 (.303/.366/.464 in A-ball) and 2014 (.300/.374/.485 in Double-A) seasons were very successful, but he had a few glitches in 2015, hitting 22 homers in Triple-A but struggling with contact with 113 strikeouts on the way to a .256/.313/.453 slash line.
He bounced around in 2016, being traded to the Rangers, then traded back to the Mariners, then claimed on waivers by the Padres, then claimed on waivers again by the Reds. He collected 21 MLB at-bats amidst all that, hitting .190/.292/.333 with 11 strikeouts.
The Reds outrighted him to Triple-A in October but gave him a non-roster invite to spring training. He was a beast in Arizona, hitting .370/.407/.630 in 54 at-bats, earning his way back on the roster, albeit in a bench role.
Kivlehan’s best tool is power but his aggressive hitting approach has held him down his OBP against advanced pitching. Despite good athleticsm and arm strength he’s never been more than mediocre as a defensive third baseman, but he’s pretty solid at first base and doesn’t embarrass himself in left and right field.
Projection systems give similar results: Steamer sees him at .233/.282/.380, while ZIPs is almost the same at .235/.282/.393. PECOTA projects better isolated power with a .238/.293/.419 slash line.
I think PECOTA is right about the power but the projection systems all view him as a sub-.240 hitter with a weak OBP. There’s no objective reason to argue with the math.
All that said, I also believe that Kivlehan has a better season in him eventually. By “better season” I mean something like .250/.310/.440, nothing spectacular but valuable when combined with his defensive versatility.
The problem is that he needs to play regularly, get his at-bats against MLB pitching, so he can adjust and adapt to reach that ceiling. Alas, regular at-bats for a 27-year-old with his profile are hard to come by. Pinch-hitting is difficult enough for polished hitters. For a guy like Kivlehan, it is doubly tough.
Here’s what he can do when he’s locked in: