Nick Kingham was the Pirates' No. 5 prospect on Baseball Prospectus' preseason 2015 list and closing in on a spot in the major leagues before having Tommy John surgery last May. He's gotten eight rehab starts under his belt since the beginning of July and will continue his climb in Altoona. I was able to chat with him on Saturday; here's the transcript, lightly edited for length and clarity.
What's your status coming back from Tommy John?
I'm almost full-go. I'm cleared enough to be pitching in some meaningful games. This year I'm taking it still as a rehab year no matter what level I get to. Really just trying to make sure I continue my (good) health and everything, and next year will be my first full year back.
What is your daily process, or where are you as far as what your regular work schedule would be?
I'm pretty normal right now. I'm showing up to the ballpark, doing the same things I would any other time. I'm basically full-go, with all the normal 'pens, throwing games. I just have a little bit more stuff to do before I throw to prepare myself for the day.
What's different before you throw?
Just getting my arm ready. I put some heat on it, do my exercise and my stretches, make sure to get a good stretch and make sure I'm fully ready to go and warmed up before I go out there and throw. I'm not just sitting there cold and going out to stretch. I do some stuff pre-stretch to get ready for the day.
How do you balance coming back from Tommy John and building towards the majors, where you were well on your way before?
This year I'm trying to put myself in a position for next year to make the (major-league) club sometime. I'm going about this to maintain my health and go about it the same as I would any other time.
It's got to be a lot more exciting for you to be back pitching regularly after what you went through, being close to the majors before that timeline got thrown off.
I'm more aware of everything that's going on now, having not played for almost a year and a half. It's gotten me more aware of my body and what I need to work on, what my body needs on a day-to-day basis. I'm more aware and I evaluate myself more efficiently now.
What are you noticing or taking better care of?
Every little thing. I know my body. If my back is feeling a little tweaked or something, I know how to go about it in the training room, how to make it feel better by tomorrow. If I wake up and my arm's feeling a little different, I analyze it better and I evaluate myself more efficiently, more properly now.
Does the team help you with that? I know the Pirates are one of the more progressive teams in sports science.
They have a lot of resources and tools for us that allow us to be more aware of everything, but I think it's just more going through the surgery and rehab. You notice every little ache and pain you have, so you evaluate yourself along the way.
What's it like for you to see guys like Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow, guys you were on similar timelines with, up in the majors?
Seeing them go up there and have success is an incredible feeling to have, having played with them and being friends with them. I want the best for them. At the same time, it pushes me a little harder to be there with them. I want that more than anything. It gives me that drive to give my day a little bit extra, to go the right way and get done what needs to be done.
Are each of your pitches back where they were? Is there anything specifically you've had to work on there?
Luckily, I've had everything come back to me pretty decently. Nothing that's too much of a struggle. The changeup I was kind of timid on because that's what I hurt (the elbow) on. But overall I've been really trusting all my pitches. They've been coming back good, coming out of the hand good, feeling really good. I know where it's at. So I'm really happy with how everything's progressed.