Though he’s not being lumped in with Jake Fox, Brooks Kieschnick, or Hee-Seop Choi just yet, righty Caleb Kilian‘s performance over three starts last season didn’t live up to the hype. After three perfect innings to begin his MLB debut, Kilian stumbled to an 0-2 record with a 10.32 ERA while walking 12 batters against nine strikeouts in 11.1 innings. To put that in perspective, he had walked just 13 batters over 100.1 innings at High-A and Double-A between both the Giants and Cubs organizations in 2021.
It wasn’t just an issue in the bigs, either, as Kilian issued 59 free passes across 106.2 innings with Triple-A Iowa. He battled inconsistency and developed a little hitch in his delivery, which led to trouble with both control and confidence. A nagging knee issue didn’t help matters.
“My mechanics were changing throughout the year,” Kilian told Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic. “I had some knee tendinitis so I think that may have a little to do with it. I started landing more open. But I’ve been working on a few mechanical changes and it seems to be improving quite a bit.”
Now fully healthy and boasting cleaned-up mechanics, Kilian once again looks like the pitcher who was all set to be the next big thing following his domination of the Arizona Fall League in ’21. We got a brief look at his smooth moves during a live BP battle with Matt Mervis earlier in the month, but Kilian looked even better over his two innings of work against the Diamondbacks on Monday.
Caleb Kilian retired all six batters he faced today 🔥 pic.twitter.com/DkqltAPljv
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) February 27, 2023
He appears to be doing a much better job of staying behind and through the ball in order to let his pitches work rather than trying to make them work. His lower body does a great job of delivering his arm, allowing him to create deception by firing his various pitches with the same effort level and arm slot.
Working with a fastball that sat mid-90s and touched 97.1 mph, Kilian quickly dispatched the first two Arizona hitters with back-to-back groundouts on seven pitches. He deployed his four-seam, sinker, cutter, and changeup in that space, saving the knuckle curve he developed in the AFL for his first pitch to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. You know it’s nasty when a dude flinches at a bender that splits the plate.
Kilian then got a called strike on a 96.6 mph sinker at the bottom of the zone before missing with a sinker that maxed out his velo. An elevated fastball finished the at-bat with a whiff, one of three swinging strikes he logged on the afternoon. The other two came from Evan Longoria during a 2nd-inning K that again began with a hook.
Here’s Kilian’s mix to the venerable third baseman: Knuckle-curve (foul), cutter (SwStr), four-seam (ball), sinker (foul), KC (foul), cutter (ball), sinker (SwStr).
After throwing three different pitches to each of the batters he faced in the opening frame, Kilian threw four different pitch types to the next three hitters. He didn’t throw the changeup in the 2nd inning, but that’s because he wasn’t facing any lefties. Both offspeed offerings in the 1st were to left-handed batters Ketel Marte and Josh Rojas. Neither of them saw a curve, which Kilian threw a total of five times to four righties.
That included two first-pitch hooks, both of which put the starter ahead 0-1 in the count. He actually threw first-pitch strikes to all six batters, giving him the freedom to dictate at-bats and pitch aggressively. With the pitch clock perhaps putting hitters in swing mode a little earlier and more frequently, Kilian getting back to throwing all of his pitches for strikes at any point is even more valuable.
It’s too early to say he’s fixed or that he’s going to break camp as part of the rotation or anything like that, but this is a very promising development.