Prospect Profile: Ryan Kellogg Is Just Turning It On

Ryan Kellogg had a storied career at Arizona State University, where he was considered the top pitcher on the Sun Devils staff for four years. The 6’6” Kellogg came to Tempe by way of Canada and became one of the most decorated pitchers in school history even before his senior year started. From his ASU bio:

  • Three-time First Team All-Pac-12
  • 28 career wins rank 10th in school history
  • 3.50 career ERA, 11th-lowest in the aluminum bat era
  • Started 47 of 48 career games, just the seventh pitcher in school history with at least 47 starts
  • 27 of his 47 career starts qualified as quality starts, including 10 in 2015, eight in 2014, and nine in 2013
  • Notched 11 wins over ranked opponents (four in 2015, three in 2013 and four in 2014), including two top-five road wins over Oregon State (and three total), two top-10 wins over Oregon (one road) and two ranked wins over UCLA (one road)

His senior year saw Kellogg go 9-2 in 16 starts while striking out 92 men in 115 innings. He flashed an 88-92 mph fastball with a slider, curve, and change. The future looked bright, or so it seemed.

Heading into the draft, many evaluators viewed Kellogg as more of a reliever, but no one really gave him much of a chance to succeed at the pro level. Many scouts focused on the numbers they saw on the radar gun…except one. John Sickles of thought Kellogg would make a great pro pitcher despite his middling velocity.

Sickles stated:

I think his velocity WILL increase, not up to 97 or anything, but into the 90-94 range. Add that to his three strong secondary pitches and his mound instincts and you have a mid-rotation starter with advanced command who will zip through the minors fairly quickly. I think pro instruction and a mechanical tweak or two will add that extra zip to the heat Kellogg needs to live up to his full potential. And I think that velocity gain will be obvious and in place by the end of 2016.

I found Sickles’ support surprising, in part due to the confidence he had in Kellogg’s ability to improve at the next level. That kind of confidence was not really a slam of ASU’s coaching staff, but rather an understanding that the pro coaching staffs could improve the young man’s mechanics with ease in one full season.

The Cubs selected Kellogg in the fifth round of the 2015 draft and assigned him to short-season Eugene. Many college pitchers struggle with going from pitching a whole season to taking a month off with no competition. It has to be hard to get the arm back and fired up again so soon to pitch another 30 innings over the course of two months. For Kellogg that was the case.

At Eugene, Kellogg was limited to short starts (2 innings), as he’d already passed over 115 innings at ASU. It did not go well. In 21.2 innings, Kellogg allowed 27 hits and walked 8 to put up an ugly WHIP of 1.615. His 4.98 ERA was also pretty unsightly. It was looking as though maybe Sickles’ evaluation was a bit off.

When rosters were announced for South Bend, I was not surprised to see Kellogg’s name on the list at all. I was, however, surprised to see that he had earned a spot in the starting rotation. He had had a good spring , but I thought there were other pitchers who had better reports. Sometimes an injury paves the way to success for other players, though. In Kellogg’s case, Oscar de la Cruz going down opened an opportunity to start.

The nice thing about the past is that it is just that. The Ryan Kellogg of Eugene is not the same young man we’re seeing in South Bend. To date, Kellogg has made 5 starts and thrown 27.1 innings. He has an ERA of 2.30 and has struck 23 while walking only four, and opponents are only batting .225 against him. Those are pretty good stats. On the other hand, stats aren’t everything.

What’s the difference?

I have watched several of Kellogg’s starts on MiLB.TV and his fastball seems to be in the range of 88-92 miles an hour, probably sitting closer to 90-91 most of the time. But he does have a big breaking curveball with an 11-4 arc that just seems to mystify a lot of hitters and he uses it often early in counts. In addition, he has a slider and change that both need work but provide a nice change of pace.

While he hasn’t struck out a lot of hitters in general, he did punch out eight a couple starts ago. More important is his ability to keep the ball on the ground, as evidenced by the 26 ground outs he’s induced as compared to 16 fly outs on the year. Kellogg gets a lot of weak contact, even on his fastball, which often results in double plays when needed.

Despite two weeks of horrible weather in early April, Kellogg adjusted and it appears he may be getting better command on his fastball. In a league where most pitchers throw three pitches, Kellogg’s ability to utilize four offerings sets him apart. He is still learning to pitch at this level and it’s been a difficult adjustment, but Kellogg seems to just be starting to turn it on. We will see in due time if John Sickels was right about Kellogg’s development.

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