The Situation: Clayton Kershaw has been sensational for the Dodgers, posting an unheard of strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.57 ERA. He might be the best left-handed pitcher any of us have ever seen. On Sunday night, he’ll be faced by Chad Kuhl.
Background: Kuhl was an unheralded ninth-round pick out of the University of Delaware, but was so impressive that the Pirates skipped Low-A and sent him to the Florida State League for his first professional season. He pitched in Bradenton, but his stock really jumped up last year after posting a 2.48 ERA in just under 153 innings at Double-A Altoona. He’s been just as good in Indianapolis, and while he was overshadowed by the more “famous” (and better) pitching prospects Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon, his 2.58 ERA and 58/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio is pretty impressive.
Scouting Report: Kuhl would have an above-average fastball just based on velocity (he sits in the low 90s), but what makes it a plus pitch is that there’s a tremendous amount of sink to it. He’s got the stuff to be a groundball machine, and the power of his fastball/sinker allows it to miss bats.
Kuhl also throws a slider and a change, and while those pitches lag behind the sinking fastball by a considerable margin, they’re both usable. The slider is another groundball pitch with late tilt, but doesn’t have depth and isn’t going to be a swing-and-miss offering at the big-league level. The change offers a bit of tumble, but it lacks firmness and there’s a slight difference in arm speed when throws it. They’re both competent pitches, but neither pitch would get an above-average grade, unless you’re a very lenient grader.
Kuhl’s command isn’t elite, but he’s generally in the strike zone, and he repeats his delivery well enough to suggest that the command and control should be big-league average as he matures physically and mentally.
Immediate Big League Future: If you’re looking for a guy who is going to miss a ton of bats and wow you with electric stuff, Kuhl isn’t and never will be that pitcher. What he can do is give hitters uncomfortable at bats, and keep the ball below the knees while keeping the self-inflicted damage to a minimum. Assuming he throws strikes and has that sinking fastball on Sunday, he’ll be effective. If he has to rely more on his secondary pitches, he might have a bad time. It’ll be interesting to see just how well his stuff translates against big-league hitters on a pretty large stage this weekend. —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Take: The 23-year-old overshadowed rotation mates Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow over the first two months of the 2016 campaign at Triple-A, posting an International League leading 1.25 ERA over his first 10 starts. The wheels came off once the calendar flipped to June, as the right-hander allowed more earned runs (12) in three starts than he had in the previous two months (eight) combined. Despite the rough patch, the Delaware native owns a sparkling 2.58 ERA (1.19 WHIP) with 59 strikeouts and just 16 walks over 76 2/3 innings this season.
Kuhl doesn’t possess the overpowering arsenal or the mammoth strikeout rate (6.9 K/9) necessary to profile as an impact fantasy starter in shallow mixed leagues. However, in 15-team or deeper formats and especially NL-only leagues, he’s a virtual lock to serve as a valuable innings-eater in the mold of Mike Leake. An extremely favorable ballpark, sinker-heavy repertoire and one of the best defenses on the senior circuit cleaning up behind him substantially elevate Kuhl’s fantasy floor and will make him a savvy investment in deeper formats. —George Bissell
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now