Name: Kyle Funkhouser
Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 220
Kyle Funkhouser is one of the more well known players in this year’s draft. He has appeared in 49 games so far over parts of three college seasons for Louisville. I was very slow to the party with Funkhouser and I will explain why in the negatives section of this capsule. Yet despite my previous reservations, I mentioned last week on the new podcast that Funkhouser was a likely top-five pick and has a good chance to go number one overall this year.
Funkhouser followed the traditional path shared by most college pitchers. He started out as freshman working out of the bullpen. He managed to get six starts that season and was good from day one on the Louisville campus. The next year as a starter he established himself as one of the top pitchers in the 2015 draft class. This year he has returned to Louisville as the Friday starter and has showed some improvement.
The right-hander is interesting because while he is a big kid at 220 pounds, he is not tall. He is 6’2”, which is the same height as Dillon Tate. Tate often gets dinged for his height by evaluators. Funkhouser is a thick guy – not overweight, just solidly built. This is why he is often called a big, durable starter. He is not a flame thrower either, as he sits more mid 90s and has peaked at 97. This shows he is a hard thrower but not the guy who is hitting 99 that some would expect. He is a solid player with good upside, but he lacks the sizzle that is often associated with a top-five pick in the draft. Tall right-handers who throw in the upper-90s is generally the stereotypical top-five right-handed pitcher profile, but that description doesn’t really fit Funkhouser.
Don’t mistake this for a knock on his ability, however. Anytime a pitcher has three potential plus pitches, he has front of the rotation potential. He has dominated college bats with his arsenal averaging more than a strikeout an inning for his career. Funkhouser brings a three-pitch mix and every pitch has flashed plus at times. His change-up is his weakest pitch by far but the reports from Saturday all had it flashing plus. His slider is his best future pitch, a punch-out pitch when he commands it. His fastball is a plus pitch, as well, and the one he has the best feel for. In terms of consistent usage, it is his best pitch in-game right now.
The reason I was down on Funkhouser was in large part due to the fact that he had command and control issues during his time with Louisville. While he could strike-out guys in bunches, he could also walk guys often. Command and control are the two skills that can be hardest to develop and can make pitchers take longer to make it through the minor leagues. I saw both of these issues and wondered if there was a legitimate chance that Funkhouser might be a future bullpen arm. As a bullpen arm, he would be about the fourth or fifth best one in this class.
One big plus in Funkhouser’s favor is that he did what many scouts have been screaming for other top talent to do this year: step-up. The season is at the halfway point and he has cut his walk-rate by a third. His command was reported as plus – not flashing but plus during his start Friday versus Duke. His strikeout- and hit-rate are about the same as the year before but the walks are way down. This is exactly what he needed to do to prove himself as a top player in this draft.
This problem hasn’t entirely disappeared despite the improvement with his walk rate. It is still 3.62 per nine innings. This would not be an ideal rate against major league hitters, but he has awhile to go before he faces major league guys. So while the command is improved and the control seems better, it is still a significant issue and something he needs to continue to improve to get anywhere near his ceiling.
The player he reminds me the most of is former Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star Chad Billingsley. Billingsley is another player who was a little shorter with a thick build. He also had some command and control issues but was able to be an effective, if not borderline front of the rotation, starter for a few years before injuries caused him to miss a lot of time and threaten his career. Billingsley was able to excel because he always had a high strikeout rate which allowed him to succeed even though he was often putting runners on-base. Funkhouser’s ceiling and build really match-up well with Billingsley.
I am still not completely sold on Funkhouser. If I made a top-10 right now, he would be in it. Yet he would not crack my top-five, as of now. There is a lot to like in what he brings as a starter but when I see a pitcher who has command and control issues, it just makes me a bit worried to spend a very high pick. Most scouts do not agree with me and I fully expect to see Funkhouser go amongst the top-five picks this June.