Mike King finished the 2018 season recognized as the Yankees minor league pitcher of the year, and stood on the cusp of the major leagues. Neither coaches, scouts, nor talent evaluators saw his rapid ascent coming prior to the 2016 draft, where he lasted into the 12th round, or during his initial two seasons of minor league ball. With an injury in his rearview mirror, King’s studious work habits have him on a path to maximize his talent and poised to join the Yankees rotation in the near future.
Despite ranking second in the Boston College record books with a 3.14 career ERA, King was overshadowed his final season by fellow pitcher Justin Dunn, who emerged during their junior season to become a first-round draft pick. King’s success in college followed him to the minors as he pitched well for the Marlins’ short season and Single-A affiliates during his time in the organization from 2016 thru 2017. He produced a solid 3.14 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 2017, but his future prospects were called into question by a low 6.4 K/9 rate.
King’s statistical and scouting profile did not mark him as a perfect match for a Yankees organization that favors velocity and strikeouts. His fastball sits in the 92-94 mph range, only topping out at 95 mph on occasion. The Yankees’ trade for King after the 2017 season was viewed more as a maneuver to try and sign Shohei Ohtani, as the Yankees acquired $250K in international bonus money along with King, and as a move to free up 40-man space, as they jettisoned Garrett Cooper and Caleb Smith. King was somewhat of an afterthought in the deal, but the Yankees clearly saw potential that they could tap into.
King developed a reputation in college for studying his opponents and crafting his game plans to maximize his effectiveness. His analytical approach fit exceptionally well with the Yankees’ data-driven organization, and he excelled out of the gate for the Tampa Tarpons to begin the 2018 season. Quickly promoted after just seven games to the Double-A Trenton Thunder, King continued to excel. He dominated the competition, and 12 games into his Double-A career, he was promoted again to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre Railriders for the last month of the 2018 season. King finished the 2018 season with a 1.79 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP across three level of the minors; both stats were the second best in all of minor league baseball. His strikeout rate also rose noticeably to 8.5 K/9.
While King was thriving and climbing the Yankees system and prospect rankings, the players he was traded for all battled injuries. Caleb Smith’s season ended in mid-June with shoulder tightness and a 60-day IL stint. Cooper’s right wrist sprain ended his season in late July. These injuries combined with King’s success made it easy for many to claim that the Yankees had plucked a gem from the Marlins system, without giving up much in return.
Heading into the 2019 season, King figured to be one injury away from competing for a starting job with the Yankees. Unfortunately for King, he became one of the first in a long line of injuries on the Yankees depth charts. Initially given a chance to return by mid-May, a setback pushed his season debut to an early-July rehab assignment in the Gulf Coast League. With King on the sidelines and improved performances from both Caleb Smith and Garrett Cooper to start the season, the narrative on the trade swung, as articles appeared stating that it was the Marlins who stole two solid players from the Yankees for virtually nothing.
Smith and Cooper have cooled off in recent weeks, and King looks to have returned to his 2018 form. Over his last two impressive performances he combined for 12.2 IP, 17 strikeouts, four walks, and just two earned runs. His velocity is back in the 92-94 range, and the Yankees feel that he is making progress with his slider after the organization asked him to focus on throwing it more. While the sample size is small, King is proving that he is a pitcher worth discussing in the Yankees organization moving forward.
Mike King again appears to be on the verge of the major leagues. As a Rule 5 draft eligible player after this season, King is a near lock to be added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster at the end of the season and see significant time with the major league club in spring training 2020. We will then get to see where the narrative goes on the Mike King trade, as there is a lot of this story left to be told.