Scouting Yankees Prospect #37: Tommy Kahnle

Kahnle has so much more upside left

The Yankees drafted right-handed pitcher Tommy Kahnle in the 5th round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of Lynn University. One of the highest ceiling relievers in the entire organization, he battled back from what could have been a serious injury earlier in the year to refine his overall game enough to become more of a pitcher and not a mere power thrower.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Tommy Kahnle
Position: Pitcher
DOB: August 7, 1989
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 220
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

"I think I did really well this year," Kahnle said. "I made some improvements mechanically, pitching-wise, and overall I'd say I made a giant step forward this year.

"My release point was more consistent this year than it had been in years passed. It's one of those things that usually helps."

Always known as more of a grip it and rip it raw power arm, one who couldn't always find the plate consistently, Kahnle battled back from a slight tear in the labrum of his throwing shoulder in Spring Training to post a solid season in high-A Tampa.

He nearly shaved off two runs from his previous season, posting a 2.45 ERA with the Tampa Yankees and a lot of that had to do with him being able to reduce his walk ratio by nearly two less batters per nine innings than the year before.

For him it was all about getting more consistent mechanics, a more consistent arm slot, and then attack batters more earlier in the counts to get ahead more often instead of always pitching behind.

"I was happy especially at the end of the year because I was getting ahead a lot more," he said. "I think when I first got injured and was coming back from that it was kind of slow, and eventually I was able to get ahead more after I got more innings in.

"At that point I felt like I was able to get ahead of people and it turned out a lot better than the year before."

Not only did he escape what could have been a very serious surgery, one that could have had him on the shelf for the better part of two seasons, but the fact is there was no drop-off in his stuff. In fact, his velocity never dipped at all once he returned.

"I didn't know if I was going to need surgery or not. I sat out for a while, rehabbed it, and then everything turned out fine.

"At first I just had to get my arm back into shape so at first I wasn't throwing very hard but once I got back to throwing again my velocity picked back up again."

The plus-plus fastball-changeup combination was still very much intact and in fact the slider, a pitch that had evaded him throughout his career, started to become a much more reliable pitch as well.

"It was a lot better this past season," he said. "It has really progressed. I finally got that release point. I felt a lot more comfortable throwing it this year than in recent years.

"I would like it to become a strikeout pitch but right now I'm kind of using it as a show-me pitch, something that I can get in there for a strike or maybe a swing and miss.

"I think it still has some ways to go. I'd like it to become a strikeout pitch but we'll see. I think it needs some more work."

The scary part with Kahnle is that as good as he is -- opposing batters are hitting under .200 against him in his career thus far -- he still has a lot of room for improvement.

"I would still say [better] command and knowing situational pitching better are two big areas I can really improve on," he admitted. "I really don't think I've got that down.

"I need to know what to throw in certain counts. I think I still have a long way to go on the mental side of baseball."

It's that kind of untapped potential that gives him such a huge ceiling and while it remains to be seen if he can become the kind of pitcher his stuff says he should be, the encouraging sign is he is making marked improvements and he's a much better pitcher today than even a year ago.

"I would say a lot better," he concurred emphatically. "From a year ago I was just kind of thrower and not really much of a pitcher.

"I just went out there and didn't really have the command, didn't really have the slider, so everything didn't fall into place for me in Charleston compared to how it did for me this past year in Tampa. Everything felt great, this past year was good."

Year

Team

W-L

SV

IP

H

BB

SO

ERA

2012

Trenton

0-0

0

2.0

2

0

2

0.00

2012

Tampa

2-1

6

55.0

30

24

72

2.45

2011

Charleston

3-5

2

81.0

69

49

112

4.22

2010

Staten Island

0-0

3

16.0

3

5

25

0.56



Repertoire. Fastball, Changeup, Slider.

Fastball. Kahnle has always had and still has a plus-plus fastball, one that sits mostly in the 94-96 mph range and tops out at 98 mph routinely. It gets decent enough movement too, at least for a fastball as quick as his can, but more than anything it's a heavy fastball that is very difficult to barrel up for opposing batters. His command, which was his biggest issue, has gotten better recently, enough that batters have to respect all four quadrants of the plate.

Other Pitches. What makes Kahnle's fastball so damn impressive is his plus-plus changeup, a pitch that he can command extremely well and one that just completely bottoms out on batters. It's a big-time strikeout weapon against both left-handed and right-handed batters. His slider was his other big issue prior to 2012, but he did make marked improvements with it. It has gone from way below average to at least an average big league offering, and sitting 87-90 mph with his slider, it does show long-term plus potential if he can ever get it to be a consistent strikeout pitch. It's not quite there yet, however.

Pitching: Kahnle has really tried to lose his grip it and rip it mentality on the mound, and tried to become more a cerebral pitcher these days. That newfound approach has allowed his once wild mechanics and inconsistent release point to no longer be a major sticky points, and his confidence has risen as a result. Confidence is huge for any pitcher but arguably much more so for Kahnle because he does have a tendency to spiral downward when things don't go his way; mechanics begin to slip, his release point gets inconsistent, walks begin to pile up, etc. What does allow him to not be a traditional sink or swim pitcher, however, is his devastating changeup, a pitch so good that he can battle back a lot of the time with just the one pitch.

Projection. Kahnle has an immense ceiling, plain and simple. His plus-plus fastball-changeup combination gives him the necessary foundation in place to have the ceiling of a big league All Star closer type, but to fulfill that kind of ceiling would require better consistent command of his fastball and upgrading his average slider into an above average or plus offering. The stuff is nearly in place but the swagger isn't there yet to bring it all together to tap that potential either. For the time being his improved command, better slider, and increased confidence will be make or break issues to pitch in the back-end of a big league bullpen, but the arm and stuff are special enough that he should find his way into fulfilling some big league bullpen role at minimum.

ETA. 2014. Kahnle will begin the 2013 season in Double-A Trenton and should he have another season like he had in 2012, he'll be big league ready the following year.

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