A lot of the prospect talk surrounding the Mariners this year had to do not with Julio and Kelenic, but with the pitching trio that was just behind them in the rankings. We have seen the joy that Logan Gilbert brings to us whenever he pitches, but he isn’t the only one that will hopefully be doing that after the next few years. So today, we get to know George Kirby a little bit better.
Most Mariners fans know that George Kirby is one of our top prospects. Depending on where you look, you’ve either seen that he’s pretty high… or REALLY high. MLB.com has him 72, although he will rise once they do their next update. Meanwhile, Baseball America just did their midseason update and they have him in the top 15. All the way to 14.
The Mariners have a stud in Logan Gilbert but could have an Ace in George Kirby.
There are players who have good control. Then, there are those who can paint the corners. At the top. you have your guys like Satchel Paige, Greg Maddux, and Cliff Lee. No crazy stories about Cliff Lee… but he walked six guys in 103 innings for Seattle, so there. George Kirby could be next. Seriously.
There wasn’t anything special about his command during his first two years in college. He has a walk rate of 2.6/9, which is good, but not anything to write home about. His junior year was completely different when he walked just six batters in 88 innings. If you think that was good, he would go on to pitch 23 innings in Everett after being draft that year in 2019, without walking or hitting a single batter.
This means that although he was drafted in 2019, Kirby didn’t walk a batter as a Mariner until the year 2021.
He’s been walking players at a more realistic rate this year, with a 1.9 BB/9 number. A large part of that is due to the incredible increase in velocity that we have seen from him. Previously sitting 92-94 and able to touch 97, Kirby came into 2021 pumping straight fire. He was touching 101 and sitting in the upper 90s. That’s a massive consistent uptick, and if he can keep it going, the tradeoff between immaculate control and great control for four mph is well worth it.
It’s hard to tell which is his secondary pitch, as the curve and slider are both thrown well. It doesn’t stop there though. With the added velocity, Kirby has a more effective changeup that falls pretty hard.
We’ve seen Logan Gilbert run through hitters with his 94-98 mph fastball and sit them down with the hard slider. Kirby seems like he will be throwing a bit harder than that, and already has an effective four-pitch mix that he is comfortable with. Not everything transfers to the majors, but he already has the makings of not just a good major league pitcher, but a potential front of the rotation guy.
I’m being a bit fanboy, but you can definitely see the potential for Kirby. If he focuses on command, Cliff Lee is a possibility. Walking a guy a game, lots of weak contact, and being a menace to face. On the other hand, he could embrace the velocity… and there are rumblings that could lead to a Shane Bieber style pitcher. When your ceiling is somewhere between Beiber and Lee, you know you’ve got a good one on your hands.
George Kirby is still only 23, and they are taking it easy with both him and Emerson Hancock. Kirby is shut down for a week or two to let his shoulder rest up a.k.a. not overwork the youngster. They’ve been holding him to about five innings per start although they let him loose the last three going 6.0, 5.0, and 7.0 innings. He still didn’t throw a ton, getting to 90, 79, and 92 pitches, respectively.
I usually stay pretty even keel, and try not to get too excited about the future. It’s hard to stay calm when thinking about what Kirby can bring. Imagining a rotation of Kirby, Hancock, Gilbert, Kikuchi, and Flexen? Oh, and we still have Dunn and Sheffield… and Marco? Yeah, there’s a lot to be excited about right now for Mariners fans, and it might just be led by George Kirby.