Monday, October 22, 2012

The Young Guns - Kyle McPherson

Kyle McPherson, 24, started his baseball career at St. Paul's Episcopal High School in his home town of Mobile, Alabama, moved on to Faulkner State CC, and then was off to the University of Mobile.

He was an athlete, which is a nice way of saying that he played the field and pitched some, appearing at third base more often than on the hill at UM. McPherson hit .302, but as a hurler was just 1-7 with a 6.07 ERA during his junior year of college as a 19 year old.

But area scout Darren Mazeroski (who also signed Alex Presley & Clay Holmes) saw a part-time pitcher that tossed between 90-92 with a couple of offspeed pitches and had good control, and thought he may be a sleeper that could be developed, a sort of poor man's version of John Van Benschoten with hopefully better results.

So the Pirates took him in the 14th round of the 2007 draft, and he signed within the week. He split his time between the GCL Pirates, where he was 4-2 with a 2.61 ERA, and the State College Spikes, where he was ineffective in three starts, going 0-1 with a 6.28 ERA. K-Mac worked 66 innings combined, and didn't get a lot of whiffs - just 41 - but only walked 18.

He pitched for the Spikes in 2008, and went 1-3 with a 4.37 ERA in 15 games, working both in the rotation and out of the pen. His command was excellent again (41K/5BB), but he gave up 10 homers in just 55-2/3 IP.

McPherson started 2009 at SC and showed better stuff, going 4-3/2.99 in 75-1/3 innings with 57 strikeouts against just 11 walks. He was promoted to the Low A West Virginia Power, and posted a 5-2/4.94 line in 51 frames. His K rate wasn't promising and he was 21 years old, but his command and resulting 1.108 WHIP between the two teams kept him on the radar a little longer.

He worked again for the Power in 2010, and suddenly found a way to get some swings and misses. He went 9-9/3.58 for WV, whiffing 124 batters in 117-2/3 innings while walking 31. That earned him a sip of coffee at High A Bradenton, where he threw four innings at the end of the season, fanning seven, working from the pen to keep his innings down. Maybe Kyle Stark's "Fastball Academy" training was finally kicking in. And the performance got him more than notice. In November, the Pirates added McPherson to their 40-man roster.

In 2011, he started the year at Bradenton. In a dozen starts, he went 4-1/2.89 with 60 K and six walks in 71-2/3 IP. That earned him a trip to Class AA Altoona, and he kept dealing, going 8-5/3.02 with 82 K and 20 BB in 89-1/3 innings.

Beside finding a way to miss bats, K-Mac finally put up fairly even numbers between fly and ground outs. He was a fly ball pitcher, and that hurt him with modestly high HR rates. The improvement netted McPherson the Pirates’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year award.

He didn't start 2012 at Indy, though, but rather on the minor league disabled list with shoulder stiffness, first noticed when his velocity took a nosedive during camp. McPherson recovered from his dead arm in mid-June, and reported to Altoona. K-Mac went 3-5/4.02 with the Curve, but his fastball was back and his control was as sharp as ever, so he was moved to Indy. In three games there, his ERA was 0.98 and he K'ed 17 in 18 frames.

McPherson was promoted to the big club on August 20th, after the Pirates had run through the pitching staff in their 19 inning win over the Cards the day before. He made his MLB debut the same day and pitched two scoreless innings against the Padres. After a handful of mainly effective outings from the pen, K-Mac made his first major league start on September 19th, replacing James McDonald in the Pirate rotation.

He finished 0-2/2.73, working 26-1/3 IP with 21 whiffs, seven walks and a WHIP of 1.177. His old bugaboo, the long ball, hurt him some as he gave up three round trippers. But all in all, it was a pretty impressive outing for Mobile's old third baseman.

The Bucs will take a long look at the righty for a rotation spot next season. He's pitching for Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Republic this winter, trying to make up for the innings he lost at the beginning of the season.

His fastball sits in the 92-94 range, and he can crank it up a couple more miles per hour on occasion. K-Mac doesn't back off throwing inside, and he can spot his heater just about anywhere the catcher sticks his mitt. His change looked like a plus pitch, and he also has an average curve.

K-Mac averaged a little over seven whiffs per nine and 2.4 walks, so along with his WHIP (which was 1.078 in the minors), his good peripherals carried over in the few frames he worked. And he did coax more grounders than flies in his opening round of MLB ball. Except for his dead arm episode, he's been a workhorse for innings, as befits a 6'4", 215 pounder.

But McPherson does have a ceiling. He's a three-pitch pony and could use a slider or cutter; now he works off mainly a four seamer. He's also a guy that looks like the longball will bite during his career, which fits in with his fastball profile - his control is excellent, but his stuff isn't quite that good to get away with mistake pitches. His ERA is a little misleading, too. He had an 87% strand rate and a 4.01 FIP.

Still, even if McPherson isn't ace material, his first few outings offer promise that he's an MLB arm, and probably slots as a four guy in a strong rotation. And that's something the Pirates could use next season.

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