Six PERFECT Innings From Cubs Prospect Caleb Kilian Bring the Mesa Solar Sox the Arizona Fall League Championship

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Six PERFECT Innings From Cubs Prospect Caleb Kilian Bring the Mesa Solar Sox the Arizona Fall League Championship

Chicago Cubs

It’s not hyperbole, it’s a fact: Cubs prospect Caleb Kilian pitched the greatest game in the history of the Arizona Fall League last night. In Saturday’s winner-takes-all, one-game league championship, the pitcher acquired at the deadline for Kris Bryant threw six perfect innings, and was named championship game MVP as the Mesa Solar Sox cruised to a 6-0 victory.

Eighteen up, eighteen down, with 16(!) swinging strikes on 68 total pitches. The right-hander touched 98 mph and threw five different pitches, including four of his eight strikeouts with the curveball.

I want to start with that curveball, and particularly the one at the 0:29 mark in the tweeted video above, because this is a pitch that has already seen change since Kilian’s acquisition in July. When I video-scouted Kilian after the trade, I said this about the curveball: “I don’t think the work is done in finding a movement profile that works best off his harder stuff.” The Cubs agreed.

Like they do with so many young players, the Cubs suggested Kilian adjust his curveball to the spiked-knuckle grip that they believe allows players to throw with better intent. Last night, working with that new grip, we saw a glimpse of the pitcher that Kilian could be with swing-and-miss off speed stuff. The pitch is still coming along – we saw hints of it drifting back into the loopy, mid 70s version at times – but the progress is undeniable, and Kilian’s upside should be recalibrated as a result.

Kilian’s success with the Giants organization prior to the trade was, in my opinion, mostly the result of his development with another pitch: the cutter. It’s the pitch I highlighted most in my July review, a pitch that in some outings seemed to be his primary offering, and the foundation behind his dominance against left-handed hitting in 2021. Kilian threw 14 of them last night, just three were balls, while five drew whiffs.

He used the cutter in the second inning to eat up highly regarded Yankees prospect Austin Wells:

I noted in the past that Kilian has a growing ability to manipulate his cutter to have a slider shape, which you’ll see here:

And then there are the fastballs. There was a lot of talk when Kilian was traded that made it seem as though he was this command-first, pitchability-second, low-upside, third type of arm. It was always confusing to me, as the tape suggested that Kilian had 97 in him, and we just don’t talk about high 90s arms with that kind of language.

Last night, pitching on the MLB Network stage with Statcast reading his pitches, Kilian threw nine pitches above 96.0 mph. When you see his build, I also think there’s weight room work left to do that will allow for more and more pitches at the high end of his range (and more mound endurance, as we saw Kilian drop to about 93 mph in the sixth).

I also think one of the reasons for Kilian’s beyond-normal success last night was the arm side movement he was getting on his sinker. It was there from the first pitch of the ballgame, and it was a definitively better offering than I’ve seen from the right-hander in the past. My instinct was this was a one-of-those-nights version of the pitch rather than a new reality, but this kind of movement allows Kilian to have distinct offerings moving right, left, up and down on hitters.

All in all, this is simply one of the better pitching performances I’ve seen from a Cubs pitching prospect. It demands that we talk about Kilian as a top prospect and as an option in the second half of the 2022 season. The outing was that kind of special from a stuff standpoint.

But to do it on the big stage made it all the better. This Arizona Fall League season was such a good one for the Cubs organization, as last night’s game was preceded by Nelson Velazquez accepting the league’s Most Valuable Player award (Velazquez would go 0-for-5 in this one, though he hit one rocket to left where he just missed). And Luis Vazquez goes down as the unsung hero of the championship, scoring three times and flashing his trademark plus defense at shortstop.

It was a night that suggested things are trending up for the organization, that the trades of last summer could bear the fruit of contenders to come. You can’t ask much more than that in November.

More from Kilian, himself, on his AFL experience and his championship game dominance:

Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.