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Pirates

Pirates minor league report: Kuhl showing promise on mound at Triple-A

| Saturday, April 23, 2016, 6:57 p.m.
Chad Kuhl, the Pirates' 17th-best prospect according to MLB.com, has a 1.86 ERA through his first two starts with Triple-A Indianapolis.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Chad Kuhl, the Pirates' 17th-best prospect according to MLB.com, has a 1.86 ERA through his first two starts with Triple-A Indianapolis.

Chad Kuhl was just a high school freshman pitcher for Middletown (Del.) during spring 2007, but even then he resembled the 6-foot-3, 215-pound minor leaguer who on Wednesday made his second start for Triple-A Indianapolis.

“He actually had the nickname ‘Sasquatch' as a freshman because he was literally like a size 13-footed, big old kid,” said Michael Rausch, Middletown's coach and an assistant when Kuhl was in high school. “He was a kid in name because he was 14 years old, but he had a body on him like he was a grown dude.”

Said Jim Sherman, the right-hander's coach at Delaware, of the Kuhl he first saw as a recruit in 2010: “He was already getting into a man's body, so his maturity level, physically, was already showing.”

He long has been a “grown dude” in stature, but Kuhl and his coaches point to several key adjustments that have allowed him to advance from Low-A Jamestown to Triple-A in less than three seasons.

Maybe the most important adjustment, Kuhl said, came during a conversation with Sherman during his sophomore season at Delaware. Kuhl had decent control and was starting to flash velocity in the low 90s but still went 1-4 with a 6.39 ERA during his freshman year.

Before a start against George Mason in 2012, Sherman explained to Kuhl that to get to the next level, he would have to learn how to pitch inside.

“It was just one of those things where I went with it and said, ‘You're right,' ” Kuhl said. “I really had lived outer third. I was starting to throw low 90s where I could go in, move some feet and make hitters uncomfortable with an inside fastball.”

Hitters' discomfort, in turn, made Kuhl more comfortable. He finished his sophomore season 5-5 with a 4.42 ERA, then doubled his win total and cut his ERA to 3.75 in 2013. That caught the eyes of the Pirates, who drafted him in the ninth round of the 2013 draft.

Kuhl advanced from Low-A in 2013 (3-4, 2.11 ERA) to High-A Bradenton in 2014 (13-5, 3.46 ERA) to Double-A Altoona in 2015 (11-5, 3.12 ERA) to a playoff start with Indianapolis by the end of the season.

“I was very impressed with him then, and he's done nothing to, you know, screw that up,” Indianapolis pitching coach Stan Kyles said after Kuhl's second start Wednesday. “He had a great spring. He had a chance to pitch in some big league games and pitched aggressively there.”

The reason for a noticeable confidence boost, Kuhl said, is better command of his off-speed pitches. That came from experimenting with different grips and pressures. He still considers himself a ground-ball pitcher — Kuhl has averaged less than four strikeouts per start over the past two seasons — but feels he can better dial up a strikeout pitch with runners on base.

Now the Pirates' No. 17 prospect, per MLB.com, Kuhl has a 1.86 ERA through his first two starts in Triple-A. It's a long way from where he was six years ago, when he was emerging as one of the best amateur players in Delaware and still struggled to get a look from many colleges until late in his senior season.

“For Chad, I always thought it was strange because it was late, you know? It wasn't a whole lot. It was odd,” Rausch said. “I do remember just as a staff we used to just every once in a while sit around confused, like, ‘Why is Chad not spoken for?' ”

Now the questions are much simpler. For example: Which walk-out song will speak for Kuhl at his new minor league home?

“I don't have one right now,” Kuhl said Monday. “It's been Imagine Dragons for the past couple years, ‘Monster.' Maybe some country to mix it up.”

Andrew Erickson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aerickson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @AErickson_Trib.

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