Max Kuhn is a player the Oakland A’s have liked for a long time. The A’s originally drafted Kuhn out of high school in the 2011 draft. Kuhn elected to go to Kentucky rather than ink as a 24th-round pick, but the A’s kept a close eye on Kuhn while he was at Kentucky and called his name again this season in the 13th round. This time, they got their man.
"He’s one of those guys we love to sign. We call those guys ‘baseball rats.’ He’s one of them."
- Rich Sparks, Oakland A's Midwest Area Scout
After not playing much his freshman year, Kuhn became a starter for Kentucky during his sophomore season and then really came into his own during the summer Northwoods League in 2013. In 60 games in the wood bat league, Kuhn batted .280 with six homers and 30 walks. He continued to swing the bat well this year as a junior at UK. In 62 games with the Wildcats, Kuhn hit .324/.437/.494 with eight homeruns and a 43:49 BB:K.
Kuhn signed quickly after the draft and spent most of his professional debut season in the New York-Penn League. In 52 games with the Vermont Lake Monsters, Kuhn hit .277/.348/.418 with four homers and a 17:47 BB:K. He hit particularly well the final month of the season, posting a .333/.400/.456 line in 90 at-bats. Kuhn finished second on the Lake Monsters in OPS (among players with more than 100 at-bats), second in doubles, fourth in homers and second in RBI. His wOBA was an above-average .380 while with Vermont.
Defensively, Kuhn was a jack-of-all-trades during his professional debut season. Mostly a third baseman at Kentucky, Kuhn logged innings in left field, at third base, second base and even first base during his pro debut. After the regular season ended, Kuhn spent much of his time at the A’s fall Instructional League learning how to catch. The move to behind the plate is expected to continue next spring.
At the plate, Kuhn has a good idea of the strike-zone and a solid approach. He out-performed the New York-Penn League averages in IsO, line-drive percentage and walk-rate, as well as all three traditional slash categories. Kuhn’s line-drive approach hasn’t yet translated into consistent over-the-fence power, but the A’s believe that he will be able to hit for power as he continues to develop as a hitter.
“I think Max can be an average hitter with plus power,” A’s Midwest area scout Rich Sparks said. “He’s got that ability. He’s stronger than an ox. If he puts things together and learns a certain approach, I think he can be a homerun guy.”
Kuhn has above-average arm strength, but he is still looking for that permanent home in the field. The A’s have several third base prospects ahead of Kuhn on the minor league depth chart (including Matt Chapman and Renato Nunez), so if Kuhn can find a defensive home behind the plate or in the outfield, he will have a clearer path to the big leagues in the A’s system.
The A’s drafted Kuhn with the idea that they would try to turn him into a catcher, in large part because his arm strength gives him a chance of being an impact player behind the plate. Kuhn also has a high baseball IQ and a very solid work ethic, and both of those factors give him a chance to make catching work. He has never caught regularly at any level, so Kuhn is starting from scratch in terms of his development at the position. Kuhn was expected only to work on catching bullpens and side work during Instructs, but he progressed quickly enough that he actually got into a few games behind the plate before the Instructs schedule concluded.
“It’s baby steps for Max,” Sparks said, in regards to Kuhn’s development as a catcher. “He’s a little rigid, but when I first got [to Instructs], they said he wouldn’t see any time out there during a game. That he’d be catching bullpens and going out there in-between innings and things like that. I think he’s done a little better than they expected. Certainly not ready to go out there and be a starting catcher.
“He caught one inning [in a game] the other day and they threw him in the fire with Dustin Driver pitching the other day. Which is a little unfair. He’s doing okay. A few miscues, but he’ll do anything he can to get out there. That’s why I think they like him so much. If they ask, ‘can we try you here?’ he won’t say ‘no’. It’s coming along. It’s certainly slow, but they are seeing what they can do with it.
“I have known him since he was in ninth grade and he has always been a hard worker. He’s just one of those guys who you like to put your name on because you know he’s not going to embarrass you. The player development guys like him in the organization from top to bottom. He’s out there working. He’s out there in the cage all of the time. He’s one of those guys we love to sign. We call those guys ‘baseball rats.’ He’s one of them.”
Kuhn is a solid athlete with average foot speed and quickness. His arm is a plus tool. He is well built, but he is likely to add a little more muscle to his 5’11’’, 190-pound frame as he develops.
If Kuhn can stick behind the plate, he has a chance to rise in the prospect ranks quickly because he projects to be an above-average hitter for that position. Even if he has to move back to a corner infield spot or to the outfield, Kuhn should hit enough to remain on the prospect radar. He should start next season in Low-A Beloit and he figures to split his time behind the plate and out in the field.