Nick Kingham will make his big league debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates today. The right-hander will take the bump against Luke Weaver in front of a home crowd at PNC Park.
Kingham’s road to the bigs was a long one. Once one of the Pirates top pitching prospects, Kingham was supposed to take over in Pittsburgh in an exciting young rotation with Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow. While Glasnow struggles with his command in the bullpen and Taillon is looking for consistency, one day looking like an ace and the next a middle-rotation arm, Kingham has been trying to get back to pre-Tommy John form in the minors.
It appears he finally may be.
Back in 2015, with top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon already on the mend from his own Tommy John surgery, Kingham tore his UCL and went down for the season. After reaching Triple-A in 2014, this was a big blow for the Pirates as many felt his big league debut was imminent. He was then limited to just 16 starts in 2015 and 2016. His 2017 was even delayed until May after an ankle injury in spring training, and Kingham spent last season searching for consistency as he stretched back out to full-season limits.
Kingham looked back in form in Indianapolis this season. He is 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. Opponents are hitting just .190 against him and he has posted a 27-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 22.2 innings. Now, the 26-year-old gets his big league shot.
Despite the setbacks, Kingham never completely fell off the radar. Our own John Sickels had him ranked the 14th-best Pirates prospect entering this season. Here’s why:
Age 26, fourth round pick in 2010 from high school in Las Vegas, Nevada; posted 4.13 ERA in 113 innings in Triple-A with 93/29 K/BB, 119 hits; missed most of 2015 and 2016 with Tommy John but has his stuff back and throws strikes; low-90s fastball with sink, mixes in solid-average change-up and inconsistent curveball; development has been slowed by the injury and he’s getting old for a prospect but he has some Triple-A success and he throws strikes, giving him a shot as a fourth/fifth starter. ETA 2018.
His assessment, as always, is spot on. It is very possible that Kingham will head back to Triple-A no matter the outcome today, with the Pirates simply in need of pitching with a double-header over the weekend. But with three pitches that he attacks the strike zone with, Kingham should easily carve out a permanent spot in the back of the rotation very soon.
He’s clearly who he is at this point. Kingham has a very pitcher-friendly frame, standing at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, and his ability to fill the zone and limit walks shows that he has learned how to harness his command and mechanics. Both his fastball and changeup sink, leading to favorable ground ball rates. His curve breaks hard when its on, but he seems to still be searching for consistency in the pitch.
The Pirates traded away some fan-friendly favorites from the old guard and looked as if they were tearing it down to start over. A 16-11 start says otherwise. As part of the new guard in Pittsburgh, Kingham has a chance to prove he should stay in his big league debut.