Position: Third Baseman
Originally, Kirkland was a 30th round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Pirates, out of the Junior College of Southern Idaho. As a draft-follow-evaluate selection, Kirkland did not sign until the spring of 2002, after posting a .374/.438/.613 line in junior college. When the Tigers traded first baseman Randall Simon to the Pirates for Roberto Novoa, Adrian Burnside, and a player to be named later, they knew all along Kirkland was the player coming their way. Because of his late signing date, Kody could not be traded until May of 2003.
In his first two professional seasons, Kirkland posted batting averages over .300 with good power potential. The 2004 season was a disaster for Kirkland, as he regressed in nearly every aspect of his game, bottoming out with a .236/.276/.401 line at West Michigan. Despite the poor performance for the Whitecaps in 2004, the Tigers promoted Kody to the Florida State League, where he rebounded to post very solid numbers, taking small steps to fulfilling his enormous potential. The 2005 season saw Kirkland post an improved .266/.342/.470 line.
With a promotion to Double-A Erie in 2007, Kody faced his most significant challenge to date; a challenge he didn't meet very well. In a season that saw him post a .217/.262/.453 line for the Seawolves, he struggled in nearly every facet of his game outside of power production. Kirkland ranked 3rd in the Eastern League in homeruns (22), while also cranking 25 doubles and 5 triples. On the slip side, Kirkland managed to strike out 157 times at Erie, against only 26 walks. As Toledo's injuries mounted late in the year, Kirkland saw action in four games for the Mud Hens in August, and was also sent along to the Arizona Fall League where his power displays continued.
Kody is an impressive physical specimen and a gifted athlete. Offensively, Kirkland has the raw potential to be a dominating player, with excellent power, some ability to hit for average, and surprising speed. His pitch recognition abilities are well below average, and he must make huge strides in this area to remain an effective hitter at the highest levels. His potential for a potent power-speed combo at third base, makes him a very enticing offensive prospect, but there are still some significant holes to close before he should be counted on to produce over the long haul.
Defensively, Kirkland has the range and athleticism to become an elite defender, and was rated the top defensive third baseman in the Florida State League in 2005, and garnered consideration for such an award at Erie in 2006. He struggles with footwork and accuracy on his throws, but the Tigers are hoping these problems will smooth out with experience. When he rushes plays in the field, he allows his elbow to dip too low and as a result, his throws become wild. If necessary, his power and athleticism should play well in an outfield corner, likely right field with his strong arm.
Overall, Kirkland has top-notch tools, but he's a ways away from fulfilling his promise. His pitch recognition and defensive skills must take some significant strides forward before he is ready to make a trip to Detroit.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% AA
Kirkland has suffered no significant injuries at this point in his career, and his exceptional athleticism and physical conditioning should allow him to avoid most injuries.
Kirkland should head to Triple-A Toledo for the 2007 season, and while he is likely to continue hitting for substantial power, the other components of his game may struggle to make the transition to yet another level. Kody will make the Major Leagues based on power alone, but the rest of his game will determine in what role.
With Brandon Inge locked in at third base for the next few years, Kirkland should get plenty of time to iron out his problems with pitch recognition and defense. If Kody gets off to a good start at Toledo this season, the Tigers could package him off for some help down the stretch, as his power potential and athleticism will surely get some teams to take a chance on him.
Mark Anderson covers the Tigers' minor league system and all of minor league baseball for TigsTown.com. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.