Coming off an uneven 2017 season, right-hander Tyler Kinley was considered expendable in the Marlins farm system. By declining to create room for him on the 40-man roster, it made Kinley available to other MLB teams in December’s Rule 5 draft. Sure enough, the Twins selected him, and after an encouraging spring training, they had every intention of keeping the 27-year-old in their major league bullpen.
However, plans can change abruptly, especially in a season where Minnesota is committed to contending. Kinley pitched to a ghastly 24.30 earned run average through four appearances and was returned to the Marlins on Tuesday afternoon.
Kinley’s circumstances have now changed dramatically. For one, he’s been assigned to Triple-A New Orleans, a level of competition he skipped en route to the Twins active roster. Last summer, he appeared in 50 games—all in relief—for the Marlins’ High-A and Double-A affiliates (3.54 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 72/22 K/BB in 53.1 IP). So there will be a renewed emphasis on his pitch sequences and execution, rather than the results.
What made Minnesota believe the former 16th-round draft pick had the ability to stick in the majors?
“When he gets ahead [in the count], it’s hard to cover a 90 mile-per-hour slider and a 98 mile-per-hour fastball,” Twins manager Paul Molitor explained in March (h/t Minneapolis Star Tribune). “He’s an interesting character. That arm’s pretty big. We’re just trying to keep bringing it along.”
From Kinley’s limited regular season experience, Statcast clocked his average four-seam fastball at 96.0 mph. That’s not quite Tayron Guerrero territory (98.0 mph), but still significantly above the MLB average in 2018. His only breaking ball is a slider, which he tries to bury low and in to lefties and low and away to righties.
Although Kinley did a solid job of throwing first-pitch strikes for the Twins (65.2 percent), he wasn’t able to finish off batters like Molitor had hoped.
At this early stage of the organization’s long-term process, the Marlins will gladly welcome any prospect with legitimate tools (in Kinley’s case, velocity). The question now becomes how they develop the other aspects of his game to help the South Florida native contribute in 2018 and beyond.