Name: Chris Kohler
Height/Weight: 6’3’’, 210
How Acquired: Selected in the supplemental third round of the 2013 draft
An arm injury robbed Chris Kohler of his sophomore season in professional baseball. Healthy again this year, Kohler is now working to re-discover the arsenal that drew comparisons to Andy Pettitte during Kohler’s first pro season.
The A’s drafted Kohler in 2013 out of a Southern California high school. Kohler was a two-way star in high school and many scouts were as high on him as a position player as they were on him as a pitcher. The A’s envisioned the left-handed Kohler as a future big league starter and kept him on the mound after he turned pro. They signed Kohler to a bonus worth a reported $486,000.
Kohler had an outstanding start to his pro career. Pitching for the A’s Arizona Rookie League team, Kohler had a 2.78 ERA and a 32:9 K:BB in 22.2 innings pitched. Kohler flashed a plus curveball to go along with a solid fastball that ranged 90-92 MPH.
The next spring Kohler continued to impress and the A’s had thoughts of sending him out to Low-A to start the season. Unfortunately, Kohler injured his elbow towards the end of spring. Rehab attempts were unsuccessful and he eventually had an injection into the elbow. He missed the entire season, although he did get back on the mound for side sessions during the A’s 2014 fall Instructional League.
Chris Kohler stats
The A’s moved slowly with Kohler this season coming off of the surgery. He spent the first half of the season at the A’s extended spring training but was ready to go at the start of the New York-Penn League season. He spent the entire second half pitching for the Lake Monsters, appearing in 11 games. Kohler did miss time with a lower body injury, but he amassed 38.2 innings during the regular season.
Kohler was up-and-down with Vermont and his numbers reflected that inconsistency. He struck-out nearly a batter an inning (37) and he walked only 10, but he allowed 40 hits and he hit six batters. Kohler’s velocity wasn’t where it was before the injury, sitting more often in the 87-89 range. He also lost some of his feel for his curveball and struggled to throw the pitch for strikes consistently.
A’s minor league field coordinator Aaron Nieckula spent the entire 2015 season with Kohler, starting in spring training through the Vermont regular season and finishing with fall Instructs. Nieckula says that Kohler was battling himself more than anything this season.
“He was coming back from his injury and still needs to build up the stamina,” Nieckula said. “He has to work down in the ‘zone a little better. He elevated fastballs sometimes and he had an inability to make an adjustment and get those balls down on a consistent basis. Secondly, is his curveball. He has a great curveball, but it just needs to be thrown more consistently for strikes. Once he hones in on that, I think he’s going to be a dominating left-handed pitcher.”
Former A’s minor league pitching coordinator Garvin Alston says that Kohler has to make some physical adjustments to get back to where he was in 2013.
“Chris understands the concepts, but he has not yet put it all together. The one thing that we were kind of concerned with is that his velocity dropped a little bit,” Alston said. “Right now, Chris is actually working on his lower half to get that stronger and – most importantly – to get more flexibility in his legs so that he can drive the way that he was able to in high school.
“His breaking ball, for whatever reason, has left him and that also has to do with arm speed. We are going back to the basics with him. Breaking him back down and trying to get him back up again. He gets it. We have talked to him at length about him understanding the concepts. It’s going to be a wait-and-be-patient scenario with him, but I think that once it does click in, things will get back to normal quickly for him.”
Chris Kohler scouting video (video by Kimberly Contreras)
Former A’s minor league pitching coordinator and current bullpen coach Scott Emerson made the Pettitte comp when working with Kohler in 2013. Kohler has an easy, over-the-top delivery. He is broad shouldered and resembles Mark Mulder physically, although Kohler is two inches shorter than Mulder. Like Mulder, Kohler is an excellent athlete who fields his position well and he is a groundball pitcher.
In addition to his fastball and curveball, Kohler has a decent change-up that has a chance to be an above-average offering. He has struggled against right-handed hitters as a pro and will need to find a way to keep righties from sitting on his fastball. The A’s like Kohler’s mental make-up.
“He’s got really strong pitchability,” A’s Assistant General Manager Billy Owens said. “He pounds that ‘zone. He pitches to both sides of the plate. Now it is just a matter of him getting all of his arsenal back after the surgery because he definitely has a strong feel to pitch.”
Despite the time Kohler missed with the elbow problem, he is still very young. Kohler won’t turn 21 until next May, making him roughly the same age of any college player who will be selected in this year’s draft. Assuming he is healthy, Kohler should get an opportunity to pitch in a full-season league at the start of the 2016 season – likely Low-A Beloit. The A’s will likely monitor Kohler’s innings closely, but if the A’s go with a tandem starting rotation in Beloit next season, Kohler should be a regular in the starting rotation.