The pressure is on, so Shaker grad Tom Kahnle should do just fine.
After spending the last four seasons moving up through the New York Yankees farm system, reaching the AA Eastern League, the right-handed pitcher with a fastball in the high 90s was chosen in December’s Rule 5 Draft by the Colorado Rockies.
Kahnle headed out to Scottsdale, Ariz., today to join the team for spring training, where he will try to make the opening-day roster.
“There’s a little bit of excitement,” he said. “I get a chance to make this team and fulfill my lifetime goal.”
The way the Rule 5 Draft works, teams with openings on their 40-man roster may draft players from any other team’s minor league teams to fill that roster. Colorado, picking fourth in the major league phase of the draft, chose Kahnle and paid New York the standard $50,000 fee. Kahnle now will work toward making the 25-man opening-day roster.
If he makes the cut, the Rockies must keep him on the 25-man roster for the entire season, and he must be active (not on the disabled list) for at least 90 days. If that requirement is not met, it carries into next season. If he is traded, the requirement transfers to his next team.
If the Rockies decide to part ways with Kahnle, they must first offer him back to the Yankees for $25,000. If the Yanks decline, Colorado can waive him.
So it boils down to the Rockies taking a $25,000 chance on a guy they think may fill a spot in their bullpen.
Colorado’s pitching numbers weren’t great last year. The Rockies’ team earned run average was 4.44, worst in the National League and 28th of the 30 MLB teams; opponents’ batting average was .277, 29th in the MLB and last in the NL; a WHIP of 1.44 was 29th in the MLB, 14th of 15 NL teams; their 1,064 strikeouts was 29th in MLB, last in the NL; and their 35 saves, 27th in the majors and 14th in the NL.
All that contributed to a 74-88 record.
Strikeouts are an area Kahnle — who also has a slider and changeup in his repertoire — may be able to help the Rockies. In his four seasons in the minors, he has never had a K/9 IP ratio of less than 11. Last season as the closer for the Trenton Thunder, he struck out 74 batters in 60 innings for a K/9 of 11.1.
That was his lowest output of his career in a bit of an off year, as he also walked 6.8 per nine innings.
“I think I still have a good amount of progression to go. Last year, I know I kind of regressed a little bit with my command, but it was still there all year. I just had a two- or three-week period where it just didn’t click.”
Kahnle said he would take any role the Rockies offered him in order to make the big-league club’s roster, but his preference is as a late-inning reliever.
“I prefer to be a back-end guy,” he said. “Somewhere in there, a seventh-, eighth- or ninth-inning guy when the game gets more pressured. All the big-inning drama, I like that kind of stuff.”
The drama, the pressure situations really force him to snap back into focus. He said one of the areas of his game that has the most room for improvement is learning to focus when he comes in with a big lead. Those lower-stress situations haven’t held his attention as much.
Hopefully, Colorado pitching coach Jim Wright can help him maintain that focus and reap the benefits of a dialed-in Kahnle.
Wright, too, was a Rule 5 draftee, so Kahnle is glad to have a coach who has been in his shoes.
“He told me about when he got Rule Fived,” Kahnle said. “It’s pretty cool because he’ll know how it is. We’re coming from the same kind of situation, and I’m sure he’ll be able to help me out along the way, coming into a new organization. It’ll be a little different.”
He wasn’t eager to part with the Yankees, but Kahnle said he understands the nature of the business and is looking forward to the opportunity in Scottsdale.
“I had a great time playing baseball with the Yankees so far,” he said. “I’m going to miss a lot of my buddies, but this is a business and this is how it goes. You’re going to meet a lot of guys and say a lot of goodbyes.”