Sunday, May 15, 2011

What Happened to Aaron King?

Left handed pitcher Aaron King was one of those prospects I paid close attention to a couple of years ago, and have tried to follow since. Unfortunately, much like his potential as a prospect, news about him had faded quite a bit.

King came out of junior college in 2008, and was drafted in the 7th round of the 2008 MLB Draft. The raw left-handed pitcher was known for his stuff, as reports liked his low sinking fastball that went in the low 90's, and had potential to gain velocity over time, according to Baseball Intellect writer Alex Eisenberg. There were some issues with his mechanics and delivery though, as noted by Eisenberg in his write-up:

"For one, King doesn't use momentum and gravity the best way he can. He's tall-and-fall in his wind-up, meaning he stops his wind-up as the knee reaches it's upper most point and then falls toward home plate. I would like him to drift through that balance point. Madison Bumgarner is a good example of this...
I also can't say I'm crazy about his arm action--I've never been a fan of upside down arm actions. Nor do I like his cross-body throwing motion and abrupt finish. So he has a lot to work on. No coach is going to able to "fix" all his problems, but they need to work with him ensure his mechanics are as efficient as possible."

Despite the mechanics issues, the Giants still remained high on the 19-year-old, as he was considered a project that had high-risk, high reward potential.

In Arizona Rookie League, he put up some sterling performances, showing a great ability to make batters whiff. In 31.2 IP, King struck out 41 batters and allowed 24 hits. However, there were major control issues, as he walked 15 batters in Arizona.

Despite the high amount of walks, his strong performance in 2009 earned him some recognition. Eisenberg ranked him the 13th-best prospect in the Giants system, grading him as a C+ prospect at the time. The main consensus was that if King could ever figure out the control problems, he'd be at the very least a good major league reliever in the Dan Runzler mold.

His first full season in the pros though proved to be a bit of a struggle. He made the jump to the Sally, and pitched 104.2 innings with Augusta, making 22 starts and posting an ERA of 3.70. He still proved to be hard to hit, as he had a 7.7 H/9 and maintained a good K/9 for a starting pitcher at 7.6. The walks did not go away though, as he allowed 52 free passes and posted a BB/9 of 4.5 and a K/BB ratio of 1.69. Furthermore, he also threw 12 wild pitches and hit five batters, the kind of numbers that are almost "Nuke Laloosh"-esque.

Wildness-issues aside, King still garnered attention from the baseball world going into 2010.  He was only going to be 21 in 2010, which still gave him time to develop as a pitcher. Baseball America ranked him as the 28th best prospect in the Giants system and John Sickels positioned him as the 13th best prospect in the Giants system, grading him as a C+ prospect going into the year.

While he was solid in 2009 in Augusta, King got off to a disastrous start in San Jose. He started seven games and pitched 27.1 innings, but he was far from effective, as he allowed 29 hits, 25 runs and 16 walks. After the slow start, the Giants assigned him to extended Spring Training in Arizona, to work on some issues, and then assigned him to Salem Keizer for the remainder of the season, primarily as a reliever. King performed a lot better in the Northwest League, pitching 20.1 innings and allowing only seven runs and seven hits. However, the walk problems were worse than ever, as he walked 29 batters, a 12.6 per nine innings rate. He did strike out 31 batters, but the punch outs couldn't hide the control issues this time around, as he finished the year with a 1.07 K/BB ratio, his lowest mark in his professional career.

The demotion to the Northwest League and control problems hurt King's stock as a prospect. He was left off Baseball America's Top-30 list this season, and he was also left off Sickels' list after ranking so high the previous year. Furthermore, King hasn't been assigned to any team this year, which makes one wonder if he has an injury, is going back to the Northwest League (they start the season later) or perhaps is out of professional ball all together. When the Giants Come to Town blogger Dr. B Giants Fan had this to say after ranking him No. 41 in his prospects list going into 2010:

"He's been in the organization awhile, but was drafted out of JC ball and will still be just 22 next season. He has some time to figure things out, but clearly still has a long ways to go. Maybe he needs to spend more time with Steve Kline in Augusta who helped Dan Runzler get a leash on the ol' heater?"

If King does pop up on a team sometime soon (I'm guessing he could start the year in Salem-Keizer again just to work on his control), it'll be interesting to see if he could ever bounce back after a really poor 2010. There is some things to like about King: he's relatively young, athletic, has a good frame and proven at every level he can strike batters out (even in his short-lived campaign in the California League, he still could make batters miss). That being said, there are a lot of negatives (questionable mechanics, control, struggles in his promotions, etc.) that don't have me as optimistic as before. His ceiling right now is a middle-reliever at best, though if I have to guess right now, he'll probably live up to that potential in the minors more often than in the majors in an Alex Hinshaw/Merkin Valdez way.

1 comment:

  1. He just got purchased by the Red Sox from independent Grand Prairie Air Hogs. And he's now an outfielder!!!