If Nick Kingham was “in shock,” as he put it, when he took the mound for his first career Triple-A start, there’s no telling what kind of state a promotion to the big leagues would induce. But after the young Pirates prospects’ performance Friday that is exactly where he’s headed.
Kingham, the 64th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, scattered just 5 hits over seven shutout innings as Indiana defeated Durham by a score of 2-1. The 22 year old struck out eight and surrendered but one walk. A pitcher always adverse to the long ball, he induced seven ground ball outs.
The Pirates have to be pleased with his showing as they are in desperate need for pitching. They recently sent two pitchers, Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole, to the disabled list in a span of three days. The would-be top prospect replacement, Jameson Taillon, had Tommy John surgery in April and the current fill-in Brandon Cumpton has an ERA of 6.06. Pittsburgh just promoted Vance Worley to take the mound sunday, but his 2013 season with the Twins ended with a 1-5 record and a 7.21 ERA, and he has yet to pitch in the big leagues this year.
Kingham, though, has the potential to be be an impact starter at the big league level and with Pittsburgh still clinging to playoff hopes despite their struggles – after last night’s victory over the marlins, they stand just a game and a half back of the second wild card spot – they may have promoted Kingham to Triple-A in preparation for a call up to the show. The scouting reports released prior to the season had indicated that Kingham was close to major league ready. In his evaluation of the Pirates’ top 10 prospects, Keith Law wrote that Taillon would be promoted during the first half of this season and that Kingham “isn’t far behind him.” John Sickels of Minor League Ball agreed and MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo also projected he’d be called up this summer, giving him an “ETA” of 2014.
Kingham backed up the scouting reports with his performance at Double-A, as he posted an ERA of 2.86 and struck out 123 batters over 144 1/3 innings for Altoona between this year and last. Now he’s got one dominant start on his belt in Triple-A and a few more should get the phone ringing and put the Las Vegas native on a plane to Pittsburgh.
That call could come at any time, too, as it is now the middle of June and service time considerations are no longer an issue. Kingham will be arbitration eligible after the 2017 season and a free agent after 2020 whether the Pirates call him up now, at the end of September, or at the beginning of next season.
Kingham described himself to MILB.com as feeling a “little bit of jitters” before Friday’s start. He should get used to the nerves; he could be feeling a lot more sometime in the next few weeks.