Righthander Mitchell Kilkenny has finally embarked on his first year of full-season ball.
He had Tommy John surgery in June 2018 right after the Rockies took him in the supplemental second round out of Texas A&M.
Kilkenny logged a 4.50 ERA in 12 starts for Rookie-level Grand Junction in 2019, with 37 strikeouts and 10 walks in 42 innings. He did not advance to a full-season club last year because the minor league season was canceled.
The 24-year-old Kilkenny began this season with Low-A Fresno. He struck out 21 and walked two through 16 innings for Low-A Fresno.
“He’s not going to out-stuff you,” Rockies farm director Zach Wilson said, “but he’s got good enough stuff to when he mixes it and plays it off of his fastball, he keeps guys off balance. He’s been able to do that very, very well while throwing a bunch of strikes.”
Kilkenny mixes his 89-93 mph fastball with an 82-85 slider that has short, late break. He throws an 11-to-5 curveball at 74-76 mph as well as an 82-84 changeup with slight sink and action.
“When it’s all said and done, he’s going to have three solid-average pitches to go with a solid-average fastball,” Wilson said, “and is going to be a control guy with enough command and enough pitchability to get a lot of outs.
“With a repeatable delivery, all of his pitches play off the same tunnel as his fastball, which allows all those pitches to play up a little bit.”
A four-pitch arsenal, repeatable delivery and control should keep the 6-foot-4, 206-pound Kilkenny in the rotation.
“Guys know it’s going to be close to the strike zone, but they don’t know what’s coming,” Wilson said. “They also know it’s going to be down.
“And if they don’t know what’s coming, and you know it’s going to be at your kneecaps, there’s not a whole lot that certain guys can do with that type of stuff.”
— Lefthander Ryan Rolison, 23, was promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque after pitching well at the alternate training site and going 2-1, 3.07 in three starts at Double-A Hartford with 20 strikeouts, two walks and 11 hits allowed in 14.2 innings. Before moving up, the Rockies wanted Rolison, their 2018 first-rounder out of Mississippi, to hone his changeup and make his direction to the plate very consistent. Wilson said Rolison’s changeup “confidence-wise and action-wise” has improved to “become not just a pitch that he utilizes but a pitch that is a weapon.”
Rolison has also worked on having his landing foot in line, so his direction to home plate is repeatedly good. As a result, he’s better able to stay behind the ball and get the necessary spin on his plus curveball with more consistency, and get better action on his changeup. Wilson said these two points of emphasis for Rolison are “finishing touches to the development process.”
— After righthander Karl Kauffmann, 23, went 1-1, 2.89 in his first two professional starts at High-A Spokane, he was promoted to Double-A Hartford, where he took Rolison’s place in the rotation. The Rockies took Kauffmann out of Michigan in the second round of the 2019 draft. After pitching 130.2 innings at Michigan, including high-leverage ones in the College World Series, the Rockies did not have Kauffmann pitch in 2019. They planned to have him pitch at Low-A Asheville in 2020 before the pandemic caused the minor league season to be canceled. He pitched well enough in spring training to open the season at Spokane, where he showed the pitchability and instincts to make adjustments when necessary to get back in counts and finish hitters off.
“If he wasn’t able to do that,” Wilson said, “we wouldn’t have felt comfortable moving him to Double-A, because you have to be able to do that to pitch at that level.
“He was showing pretty early that the High-A challenge wasn’t going to be enough for him. If all you’re doing is succeeding at one place you’re not in the right spot. So he needs to be challenged a little more, but he’s also got some of the tools already to be able to work through some of the challenges he’s going to face.”