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Michael Kohn: Angels Top Prospect #14

14) Mike Kohn, 6/26/86 - RHRP, A-Ball, High A

6 Wins, 1 Loss, 9 Saves. 65.2 IP, 1.64 ERA, 103 SO/26 BB. +22 runs saved.

Ranking in a Nutshell:  It's funny - many prospect analysts anointed Kohn with "sleeper" status entering 2009, he performed at or above the most lofty of expectations, yet he is now lost in the shuffle, overshadowed by the Halos' high profile/high ceiling rookie-ball arms. He should get more notice, because his numbers are ridiculous: he fanned 14 batters per nine innings across two levels in 2009, held the opposition to a meager .156 batting average against, and racked up the tenth highest wins above replacement total in the Angels system, a difficult thing to do as a reliever.  His stuff is good - a 90-94 mph fastball, a slurvey breaking ball that can rate as a plus pitch, and a change-up - but it's the short arm stroke in his pitching motion that really sets him apart. Tom Kotchman described his fastball as "a sneaky 94," because minor league hitters had such difficulty catching up with the unconventional delivery. 

Track Record: Kohn played first base at the College of Charleston, but after going undrafted in 2007 decided to try his luck on the mound.  His arm strength attracted attention immediately, but he suffered a shoulder injury in 2008 that undermined his draft stock and allowed him fall to the Angels in the 13th round. His health rebounded that spring, and he's been on the fast track ever since, posting a 17 K/9 in rookie ball and 14 K/9 across A-ball and High A. When hitters do make contact, they're rarely able to center up the ball, resulting in an incredible 27% infield fly rate on balls batted into play.  So far in his pro career he's allowed less than a base runner per inning, less than one hit every two innings, and just two homeruns, period. After posting a very good 2.9 BB/9 in the Midwest League, he slipped to 4.4 BB/9 in the California League, so we'll have to keep an eye on his control heading into 2010. 

Win-the-Lottery-Ceiling: Kohn's delivery is unique, so I can't think of a comp that adequately captures him physically. However, he's as dependent on his funky delivery as Brian Fuentes, and throws about as hard, so in terms of career arc they might be similar. Kohn is showing much better numbers at any earlier stage in his career, however, so perhaps his peak will be higher and he'll sustain it for a longer period of time. 

Scouting Report: (beneath the jump)

From the batters perspective, the ball goes entirely unseen in Kohn's delivery until the moment of release. There's no elbow extension behind his back, no split second to track the ball as Kohn brings his arm into position to throw. Instead, Kohn keeps his right elbow bent so that the ball never strays much from behind his ear, even as he cocks his arm and begins the forward motion of his delivery. He then whips the ball around and releases from a three quarters arm slot.  Hitters rarely seem to catch up with the pitch, resulting, according to Tom Kotchman, in "a lot of bad swings."

Check out the link here to get a look at Kohn, but be aware that you have to watch Tyler Chatwood face off against Brewer's prospect Brett Lawrie three times first. Hat tip to Alex Eisenburg for the link.

Baseball America isn't impressed with Kohn's ability to fool minor league hitters, ranking him just the 30th best prospect in the organization, likely because they feel big-leaguers will eat his "sneaky"  stuff alive.  I disagree: he has consistently converted outs against some very good minor league hitters; moreover, his present numbers are so good that they could undergo significant regression against more advanced competition and he would still be highly effective. His stuff could even take anotherl step forward, because having pitched regularly for only two years now, he's still pretty young from a developmental standpoint.  I like him a lot, and hope to see him claim a role in the Angels' pen around mid-2011.