PITCHING PROSPECT SPOTLIGHT: GEORGE KIRBY
Welcome to a continuation of our new Prospect Spotlight series, where we pair our prospect rankings with a deep dive on one of the players in that ranking. Here, we’ll dive deeper into the prospect’s fantasy profile, highlighting their background, skill set, and what we see for them coming down the pipeline. Prospects are the lifeblood of any dynasty league and we hope to bring you more great info on these rising stars in 2021 than ever before.
The Seattle Mariners drafted right-handed pitcher George Kirby with the 20th pick in the first round of the MLB Draft in 2019. This selection was sandwiched between the 2018 first-round right-handed pitcher Logan Gilbert and the 2020 first-round right-handed pitcher Emerson Hancock. With Kirby coming from Elon University and Gilbert from Stetson University [WOO GO HATTERS- Ed.], Mariners scouts found quality arms in consecutive years from schools that most of us are only used to seeing during Championship Week of March Madness. A year later, Hancock arrived from the slightly more notable University of Georgia. Kirby signed for $3.24M, starting a journey that should land him alongside the other two with the Big Club in Seattle in the next two years.
While there is a ton to like about Kirby throughout scouting reports, video, and quotes, the unquestioned top quality is his control and command. Kirby not only has video game numbers when it comes to throwing strikes, but he also has a quality four-pitch mix which on many nights features three or even four pitches that he can command. In 88 1/3 innings in his final season at Elon, Kirby only walked six batters, while compiling an 8-2 record, 2.75 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and striking out 107 batters. In his post-draft press conference, director of amateur scouting Scott Hunter said that the strikeout-to-walk ratio “kind of punches you in the face when you look at it and you have to ask if it’s real.” He then debuted as a pro in short-season A-ball in Everett and in 23 innings, walked ZERO batters, struck out 25, with a 2.35 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Yes, the ol’ 0.0% BB-rate which punches you in the face even harder.
Kirby features a four-pitch arsenal of a fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. The fastball grades out as a 60 (“Plus”) pitch in all reports. A year ago, Kirby sat around 92-94, touching the mid-90s but the reports went up a notch at the alternate site. The fastball averaged 96 at the alternate site and reportedly touched 99. Per Baseball America, “that extra velocity did not come at the expense of his plus-plus control. He also added movement to his fastball.” Okay, then! Of course, with such a short season it remains to be seen if Kirby can maintain that velocity for a six-month season in 2021 but even with just a couple of extra ticks from when he was drafted, Kirby goes from a “command and control guy” to a “power arm with command and control,” … and four quality pitches.
Depending on which scouting report you read, Kirby’s remaining three pitches have varying reviews but they all seem to land, on average, around a 55-grade (“above-average”). Between his two breaking balls, the curveball is clocked in the low-80s and is used most frequently against lefties while the slider comes in in the mid-80s and used against righties more. The changeup is his least-used pitch at the moment, but there is good separation in velocity from the fastball, and Kirby throws the pitch for strikes with the potential by all accounts to be a plus pitch.
Size and Mechanics
Kirby was reportedly 6’4”, 210 pounds when drafted in 2019, which Scott Hunter described at the time as a “lean, wiry build.” Per the Tacoma News Tribune, Kirby had dropped 20-25 pounds in an attempt to be “more lean and cut” before focusing on putting more healthy weight back on. Kirby reported feeling “more loose on the mound” and that “being more lean I think helps with recovery for sure,” in regards to his arm between outings. Prospects Live described Kirby as having a “QB frame.”
Kirby does a great job repeating his arm action time and again and is able to deliver all four of his pitches in this manner. This is evident in this game action video, going back to 2019 during his time at Elon. (Note: Kirby had the audacity to walk a season-high two batters in this link.)
George Kirby: “Just having guys like (Kendall) Graveman or (Marco) Gonzales watching your pen, and just having the feedback they can provide, for me that was pretty helpful. And just watching them go about their business, too, was good to see. You get to see their work ethic and then just try to follow that.” (Tacoma News Tribune)
Scott Hunter, Director of Amateur Scouting, in regards to pitching in relief in Cape League: “(Kirby) loved it. He’s more of a starter, but he did say he went in there and it gave him even more confidence just being able to get in there with games on the line and go right after some of the better hitters in the SEC and ACC. It’s something that was a growth moment for him.” (Tacoma News Tribune)
Jerry Dipoto, General Manager, on Kirby’s control: “It’s bearing out. He doesn’t let you get into a hitter’s count. … He gets a ton of ground balls.” (Times-News)
Dipoto, regarding Kirby’s 2019 three-inning appearances: “It was the intention for them all to be one and two innings,” Dipoto said. “But he has been so efficient. Just how efficient he has been in his innings.” (Times-News)
In regards to prospects and younger MLB players, the terms “ceiling and floor” are brought up ad nauseam with one or the other being the positive focus. For George Kirby, it seems to me that we can focus on a little bit of both. A year ago, I considered Kirby a safe, high-floor pitcher thanks to his variety in pitch mix, above-average fastball, and ability to command all quadrants of the strike zone while reading that there was still room to add power to his projectable frame. It seems that this projection happened in 2020, and throwing in the upper half of the 90s gives Kirby a higher ceiling than we anticipated. I’m dreaming of Kirby being a #2 SP a few years down the road.
In my early years of playing dynasty baseball, it was the hard-throwing pitchers like Michael Kopech and Alex Reyes where my eyes lit up to target. After spending top draft capital on a couple of prospects who end up with Tommy John surgery and a couple of others who ended up in the bullpen, the command/control pitchers with less bullpen risk suddenly don’t look so bad. Kirby is usually showing up lower on prospect lists than his minor-league counterparts Logan Gilbert and Emerson Hancock. While I believe all three have great potential, there could be an opportunity to sneak in and trade for Kirby without needing to give up any truly elite players. If I had to pick one pitching prospect to jump into the Top 25 overall prospects a year from now, Kirby would be the pick.