That was Michael Kickham‘s response during the 2012 NLCS when asked if he had mentally projected himself experiencing playoff baseball in the big leagues in 2013 or 2014. Given Ryan Vogelsong‘s injury and the possibility of a promotion from Triple-A Fresno, Kickham could find himself on the big league roster sooner than he thought…
Kickham was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 6th round of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft. His career at Missouri State was rather far from prolific with a 4-9 record and a 5.29 ERA in 15 games. However, scouts saw potential in Kickham’s plus stuff and big-bodied frame.
Jason Parks, an authority on prospects for Baseball Prospectus, wrote the following about Kickham (courtesy of Jay Jaffeof, Sports Illustrated):
The 24-year-old has good stuff from the left-side—including a plus fastball—with feel and utility for a deep secondary arsenal. Some scouts think Kickham would be a better fit in the bullpen, where his velocity could play up and his command issues could play down, but he has the body and the arsenal to develop into a back of the rotation workhorse. Either way, Kickham is a major-league arm and should see action in 2013.
Kickham can get his fastball up to 94mph, and he complements that heater with a solid curveball, plus slider, and workable change up. During his initial stint at Single-A Augusta, he posted a 5-10 record with a 4.11 ERA in 21 games started. His K/9 ratio was a solid 8.30, but his BB/9 ratio (2.98) was concerning. Opponents hit .257 against him, but the rather high BABIP of .318 should put that into better context.
A promotion to Double-A Richmond in 2012 saw Kickham emerge as a legitimate prospect. He managed to compile a 3.05 ERA across 27 games started, his 11-10 record betraying his effectiveness. His 75.5 LOB% (Left-On-Base Percentage) shows how proficient Kickham was at getting out of jams, which is something he largely did to himself when you consider his BB/9 rate jumped up to an alarming 4.48 even though opponents only hit .216 against him. Still, Kickham impressively struck out 137 batters across 150 innings with an above-average ground ball rate, earning a promotion to Triple-A Fresno for the 2013 season. He was also an Eastern League postseason All-Star.
After a brutal start to this season in which Kickham allowed run totals of 1, 4, 5, 6, and 8 over his first 5 games, he’s since posted 4 consecutive quality starts in which he’s struck out 25 and walked 6 with only 5 runs charged to him in that span, totaling a 1.80 ERA. His BB/9 rate still sits at an eye-popping 4.72, but 13 of his 19 walks took place over those first 5 games in which Kickham simply couldn’t put it together. Since then, he has pitched well. Plus, he’s already got 50 strikeouts in 47.2 innings (9.4 SO/9), which ranks 2nd in the hitter-friendly PCL. Impressively, 32 of those 50 strikeouts the lefty has hand-tied have come against right-handed hitters.
Baseball America ranked Kickham as the fifth-best prospect overall in the Giants’ farm system, and they graded his slider to be the best in the organization. He projects as a backend starter, and his solid pitcher’s frame suggests he can be a workhorse similar to Vogelsong. If he can continue to harness his command and keep his walk-rate down, Kickham’s low-90s average velocity combined with above-average off-speed repertoire should translate to swing-and-miss stuff that’s good enough to earn a spot on the Giants rotation, perhaps sooner rather than later given the uncertainty surrounding the returns of Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, and Vogelsong for 2014.
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