Pirates prospect Nick Kingham underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday, the club announced. He’ll miss all of this year and a significant chunk of 2016.
It’s always disappointing to lose a year of development and take on the risk of a surgery, of course, but the news is all the more difficult for Pittsburgh given that Kingham seemed close to the big leagues. As Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review notes on Twitter, Kingham was probably the Bucs pitching prospect who was best prepared to join the major league club this year.
While both Baseball America and MLB.com rated Kingham only the club’s sixth-best prospect entering the year, it’s a strong overall group of top-end prospects. MLB.com currently rates Kingham the #68 prospect in all of baseball, crediting him with three solid to above-average pitches. Overall, his value lies less in his upside than in the reasonable expectation that he’ll settle in as a mid-to-back-of-the-rotation starter. (Baseball America calls him a “solid No. 4 starter” in the making.)
A fourth-round pick back in 2010, Kingham progressed steadily and reached Triple-A for the first time last year. He opened 2015 back at Indianapolis for his age-23 season. Over 119 1/3 innings at the highest level of the minors to date, Kingham has worked to a 3.77 ERA with 7.3 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9.
Pittsburgh’s rotation has been excellent thus far, producing the second-lowest ERA in the league (just behind the division-rival Cardinals). With Charlie Morton back in action, and the team’s Triple-A rotation (including Casey Sadler, Clayton Richard, Chis Volstad, Adrian Sampson, and Wilfredo Boscan) all putting up good results at Triple-A, the club seems to have adequate depth as things stand.
Looking ahead at 2016, though, the loss of Kingham could sting. While only veteran A.J. Burnett is set to hit the open market among the team’s current array of starters, Kingham would have increased the team’s flexibility in structuring its roster. The news seems to make a Burnett return somewhat more likely, though we’re a long ways off from having any real idea how that situation will play out.