Rule 5 pick Kahnle's story one of perseverance
Rookie righty reliever first Major Leaguer from Division II Lynn University
DENVER -- The moral of Rockies rookie reliever Tommy Kahnle's story: Everything comes together on time, even if it isn't on someone else's time.
Kahnle, 24, was left unprotected by the Yankees -- with whom he hadn't advanced beyond Double-A -- last winter because his control hadn't reached the point the team wanted when it had to make its decisions. The Rockies took him in the Rule 5 Draft. Suddenly, Kahnle has pulled his hard-throwing style together against Major League hitters, to the tune of 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA, with work in important situations.
Being on a different timetable than the norm, however, is the background of the story of how Kahnle became the first Major Leaguer produced by Lynn University, a successful NCAA Division II program in Boca Raton, Fla.
Kahnle grew up in Latham, N.Y., but pitched in camps and showcases in Florida and knew he wanted to play where it was warm. He eschewed offers from Northeastern and Midwestern schools. His plan was to play at Florida Atlantic University, also in Boca Raton.
"I kind of messed up the whole recruiting process with them," Kahnle said. "I think I missed the deadline with some kind of paperwork. So I got scratched off the list.
"Lynn had stopped talking for a while. They knew I was being recruited by Florida Atlantic and they didn't want to come in on the heels of them. But eventually I just called them, and they offered me whatever [scholarship] money they had left."
Throughout college and the Minors, Kahnle displayed athletic ability, a strong arm and work ethic. Folks just hoped the control needed for big league success would come.
Kahnle was a versatile athlete through high school. He played quarterback, tight end, wide receiver, linebacker and safety in football. Rockies area scouting supervisor John Cedarburg, who scouted Kahnle at Lynn, noted, "He can dunk a basketball, so you know he's an athlete with a lot of power in his legs." But he hadn't pitched much, which meant his arm was fresh but he was also raw.
However, Lynn head coach Rudy Garbalosa saw the possibilities.
"He had incredible focus, and he would take his throwing sessions very competitively," Garbalosa said. "As an example, we'd do long-toss as far as you want. Our field down the line is 325 feet, so it was 325 from the foul line to the center-field fence. When he got here, he could throw to the warning track. By his second year he was throwing to the fence, then he was throwing them over the fence so he had to long-toss diagonally. All his throwing was very important to him.
"Then in the games, he was a great competitor."
As a freshman, Kahnle pitched mostly as a starter until the postseason, when he threw 12 2/3 scoreless innings and was most valuable player of the regional tournament and when the Fighting Knights won the Division II national tournament.
Kahnle continued as an occasional starter and reliever who attracted scouting attention. He threw a no-hitter on March 13, 2010. While his stuff was electric, he was never made an all-conference or All-American selection.
"Back then, I had a lot of control issues so I was very inconsistent, but I threw hard," Kahnle said. "That was the one perk I had going for me."
Cedarburg said the Rockies were disappointed when the Yankees selected him in the fifth round of the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft. In the Yankees' system, Kahnle was 6-9 with a 3.07 ERA and 26 saves in 128 relief appearances. Last year, he earned 15 saves at Double-A Trenton, but 74 strikeouts to 45 walks in 60 innings pitched kept him off the 40-man Major League roster. The Rockies, seeking power pitchers, took him.
During Spring Training, Kahnle struck out nine against two walks and made the club. The Rockies must keep him in the Majors the entire season or else offer him back to the Yankees for $25,000 -- half the cost of the Rule 5 pick.
Often Rule 5 picks are eased in early. But April 3 against the Marlins, Kahnle entered with in the sixth with two runners on, and one out with a two-run lead. Kahnle gave up one hit, a Casey McGehee RBI triple, but left with a strikeout, a walk and the lead in a game the Rockies lost.
"He's shown he's very comfortable in some very tough situations, so I haven't shied away from putting him in some tough situations," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He's handled it."
Kahnle has had a pair of two-inning stints -- once replacing injured starter Brett Anderson in the fourth and fifth innings of a 1-0 victory, the other time Monday when starter Jorge De La Rosa left after five innings of an 8-2 victory.
Kahnle has a hard fastball and a changeup that helps against lefties. He is developing his slider and working on his balance so he doesn't fall off to the first-base side and lose control. With 11 strikeouts but six walks in 11 1/3 innings, he still has work to do.
"The key to me was the other day when he pitched with rest, he was sharper with his command, and that's a great sign," Rockies pitching coach Jim Wright said.
Kahnle realizes he needs to make efficient use of his time to develop fully.
"I still don't think everything has come together yet," Kahnle said. "As soon as I get the fastball command down and my slider more consistent, I think it'll be much better.
"I don't think it's really settled in as much yet, and it's been almost a month. Every day it's like, 'I'm here. Made it.' But the thing is, I want to be here longer. I want to stay, never go back."