Kyle Kaminska has been in the news lately, after coming over from Miami, being converted back to a starter and performing well in a few weeks' work in the Pirate system and Arizona's Fall League.
He was born in Wauseon, outside of Toledo, Ohio, but the good folk of Naperville, Illinois, are quick to claim him as one of their own. And no wonder - after his family moved to the Land of Lincoln, Kaminski help lead Central High to its first state championship as a junior, going 10-1, and ended his career with a Redhawk record 24 victories.
The Florida Marlins noticed, and took the righty in the 25th round of the 2007 Draft. He lasted that long because the scouts believed he was going to honor his commitment to Michigan State, but the Fish gave him 120,000 long green reasons to forego the Spartans and reeled him in. The teen got some work in the GCL, and held his own, going 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA and 14 K in 19 IP.
Kaminska was promoted to the Class A Sally League Greensboro team the next season, and began learning his pro lessons. He went 5-7 with a 6.54 ERA, giving up 13 long balls in 85-1/3 innings with 84 K. He has always had a reputation as a control pitcher, and was being taught, even at that level, that occasionally you have to fire a heater at chin level or drop a ball in the dirt to keep the hitters honest instead of just serving strikes. In spite of that mark, he got a cup of coffee at High A Jupiter at the end of the season.
He returned to Greensboro in 2009 and became more of a workhorse than racehorse, going 9-9 with a 4.16 ERA in 142-2/3 frames with 112 K, though he did cut down on balls leaving the yard, surrendering just 10 blasts.
In 2010, KK started at Jupiter in the High A Florida State League, once earning the FSL's Pitcher of the Week award. He only went 1-4, although with a decent 3.51 ERA, but was shut down with ulnar nerve irritation in his elbow with less than 50 IP under his belt.
Kaminska began the next season in Jupiter again, and was converted to the bullpen, maybe to ease the load on his arm. It worked wonders, as he went 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA and fanned 81 in 94-1/3 innings as a long man for the Hammerheads and then at AA Jacksonville.
But 2012 was to be a roller coaster ride, both in performance and addresses. He lost his mojo with the Fish, going 6-4 with a 5.24 ERA in 33 games between the AA Suns and AAA New Orleans as a reliever. Again, the home run ball hurt. He gave up nine in 53-2/3 innings, and a .328 opponent BA wasn't helping the cause, fueled by an unlucky .359 batted-ball-in-play BA.
Kaminska was acquired by the Pirates at the deadline from the Marlins along with Gaby Sanchez. The initial reaction was that he was a throw-in with a future as a middle reliever if he made it to the show, but more likely a depth guy for the system.
GM Neal Huntington didn't see it exactly the same way. He told Kristy Robinson of Baseball Prospectus that “We’ve liked Kyle for a couple of years as a projectable pitcher based on his body, arm, and pitch package. As we looked for a fit in our trade with Miami this summer, we felt like he offered us some upside to go along with Gaby to balance out the deal.”
The Bucs flipped Kaminska, 24 (he has an October birthday, so that'll be his playing age next season), back to the rotation. So far, so good: he went 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA between High A Bradenton and AA Altoona, made four starts in seven outings and whiffed 22 in 28 IP. To build on the conversion, the Bucs sent him to Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League.
He turned a few heads there, becoming a surprise AFL success story. In six Scorpion starts, Kaminska went 3-1 with a 1.61 ERA in 28 IP, with 24 K to go against just 4 BB, a 0.930 WHIP and opponent BA of .208. He started six games (with a strict pitch count not to exceed 70), and gave up one earned run or less in the final five. Pretty good stuff; the AFL is a hitters' league, even if it's AA competition at best.
Kaminska is a lanky 6'4", and while he may not be a power pitcher, his bod fits the Bucco mold of going after the tall trees with a downward plane to their delivery. The righty is a sinkerball pitcher who works fast, makes a living catching the plate, isn't afraid to come inside, gets into pitchers counts, actually works at holding runners (yah, we know - give him time *sigh*), and gets about 45% of his outs on the ground.
Like most guys, Kaminska works off his fastball, which is not overpowering and sits in the 87-91 range. But the Bucs are trying to convert him back to a starter because he does have a three pitch package, with a slider and change to go with the heat. He's learning to use his slider as a swing-and-miss pitch. None of his stuff is overwhelming, so he depends on location and drop to get by.
Is that enough to overcome the tag of middle reliever? Well, that has yet to be seen, and the Pirates haven't indicated whether he'll start 2013 at Indy or Altoona yet (we'd guess the Curve, depending how the MLB roster shapes up in 2013). So far as his upside goes, the Pirates didn't add him to the forty man roster this year and John Sickels didn't include him among the Bucs' top forty prospects, so that's telling in its way.
Right now, he appears to be another in the queue of potential back-end Pirate starters in the system, with a chance to someday fill in the bottom of the rotation or join the pen as a middle/long guy. So 2013 is big for him; he needs to replicate the success he had in his small Pirate sample to hang with and maybe separate himself from that gang.