Kilian’s lanky 6-foot-4 frame gave him more projection than a typical college pitcher, and if he continues to make the gains he has early in his career, he could develop into a No. 4 starter. He repeats his athletic delivery and throws all four of his pitches for strikes. He could push for a spot in Chicago’s 2022 rotation.MLB Pipeline’s report on Caleb Kilian
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2021 Season Review
After the trade deadline I dove into the video available on Caleb Kilian. After watching several games of footage, I firmly believe prospect evaluators are far too pessimistic on Kilian’s ceiling. The righthander is a “command+” pitcher who had a 1.37 BB/9 (3.9 BB%) with a 26.0 K% across 76 2/3 innings in 15 AA starts. As you watch Kilian work, it’s easy to tell that his fastball command is the primary reason his walk rate is so low. Kilian throws three fastballs with a four-seam, two-seam, and cut fastball (cutter) all being used often in at-bats. Prior to this fall, Kilian threw a slower curve (that was being transitioned to a more powerful curveball) and a below-aver/average changeup.
Mechanically, Kilian operates with a smooth, repeatable delivery. Kilian has a long arm stroke, which is a mechanical feature that some teams have moved away from in recent years, including Cleveland (pertinent with Carter Hawkins coming on board). The Cubs are not one of those clubs as multimedia producer for Marquee Sports Network, Lance Brozdowski, illustrated perfectly with Cubs prospects Ryan Jensen, Kilian, and Alexander Vizcaino.
Taken at face-value it’s easy to see how prognosticators may lump Kilian into the back-of-rotation grade bucket, but if so, I believe that he is being majorly slept on. First of all, velocity is often a key grade in viewing long-term ceiling for a pitcher. Whether velocity alone should carry such weight in outside rankings is debatable, but there is no doubt that the Cubs value power pitching after Jed Hoyer’s fall press conference. And Kilian does have velocity. He operated 94-98 mph regularly in 2021 starts, which is significantly higher than the average major league fastball (approximately 93 mph in 2021). Diving further in Kilian’s fastballs, his cutter and two-seam are solid pitches that can generate whiffs (cutter) or weak contact (two-seam). The cutter is a relatively new pitch that replaced a former slider.
You can see a breakdown of Kilian’s full repertoire prior to the deadline below.
I want to note, that pushing back on the narrative that Kilian is a bottom of the rotation pitcher is not to take away from the fine work that prospect publications like MLB Pipeline put forward. Rather, it’s an opportunity for writers like myself to take a deeper dive into prospects in the organization. And MLB Pipeline is most certainly noticing Caleb Kilian.
In an interview with MLB’s Jim Callis, Kilian noted that he’s now incorporating the Cubs “spike-curve” as well as a circle change into his repertoire.
“I’m also working on two new pitch grips,” the 24-year-old righty said. “They were kind of foreign to me the first outing, but they’re starting to get more comfortable and I think they’re making my pitches better…Caleb Kilian to MLB Pipeline
The spike-curve is an intriguing pitch that the Cubs have began to implement throughout their minor leagues. The spike curve (or knuckle curve) is thrown harder than a traditional grip curveball. According to scattered reports, it appears he is making significant progress with both pitches. Without any meaningful video (thanks MLB!), It’s hard to grade the progress of either of these pitches. I’m cautiously optimistic about my number 8 ranked Cubs prospect.
What type of ceiling are we talking about?
I’ve gone on record, that Kilian has a higher ceiling than a number 4 starter. I’d say it is far more likely that he ends up as a number three starter (approximately a top 50 SP) or better. He has command, velocity, and multiple pitches to address L/R splits. If his curveball and changeup make improvements, he could even have frontline (Top 30 SP) upside. Hopefully his AFL success raises his national profile. It’s time to stop sleeping on Caleb Kilian.
Feature photo of Caleb Kilian by Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22)