Another Arm on the Conveyor Belt: Kyle Hurt’s Debut

A look into Kyle Hurt's journey and sources for his high K%.

Flashback to September 2022 and Dodgers fans likely forgot completely about Kyle Hurt (if they had ever heard about him at all). The Miami Marlins drafted Hurt in the 5th round of the 2020 draft out of USC and traded him to the Dodgers alongside LHP Alex Vesia in exchange for LHP Dylan Floro. In hindsight, the Dodgers reaped massive reward from that trade as Vesia has been a mainstay in the bullpen despite his 2023 struggles and Hurt has now joined him in the MLB bullpen.

Hurt was heralded as a prospect since his high school days at Torrey Pines in San Diego, hitting 90 mph for the first time as a freshman and being selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 34th round of the 2016 draft. His time at USC didn’t exactly go as scripted, however, as he tallied a combined 5.06 ERA and 5.6 BB/9 in his three years in the Pac-12. His best stint in college came in Cape Cod in 2018 with the Chatham Anglers as he flashed his elite fastball and change up combination against the country’s best hitters. High variance between outings and lackluster college stats led to him falling to the last round of the shortened 2020 draft and, while the potential was always there with Hurt, his volatility followed him into the minor leagues.

Kyle Hurt’s professional stats include a blip of a 10.7 BB/9 in his stint in Double-A in 2022. Source: Fangraphs

The Dodgers clearly knew they were getting a talented yet raw pitcher in their trade with the Marlins as they kept Hurt in extended spring training, working on his gyro slider and fastball before he made his professional debut on July 16th, 2021. They eased him in, working him in the complex league before he spent the last month of the 2021 season in Low-A Rancho Cucamonga, racking up strikeouts at a 15.4 K/9 pace. His stint in Low-A and afterwards in the Arizona Fall League began a saga that didn’t end until this year: Elite strikeout rates, ‘Stuff’ rivaling the best in baseball, and, sometimes but not always, incredibly erratic command.

Hurt’s arsenal on the mound has generated among the most whiffs in minor league baseball over the past two seasons. Over the 2022 and 2023 minor league seasons, in 163.2 IP, Hurt has 261 strikeouts, good for a 14.4 K/9. He has a fastball that reaches 99 and averages 96 with 16″ of induced vertical break, a Bugs Bunny change up averaging just 2″ of IVB that he put on display against the Padres in his MLB debut, a gyro slider that sits in the upper 80’s, and a curveball that has now graduated to be his fourth pitch but is still a worthwhile offering sitting in the low 80’s. His ‘Stuff’ is impressive, and how he generates velocity is also noteworthy.

Hurt has a buttery smooth delivery, moving fast down the mound without being jerky. He internally rotates his back hip early but uses it to sequence well with his torso, rotating fast and late with his upper half. His body stays loose early on, lacking muscular tension until after he completes his glove tap that is used as a timing mechanism. Because he is a more rotational thrower, he does fall off a bit to the first base side but that likely helps him get inside of his change up too. His delivery applies effort at the exact right moment and sequences perfectly from lower half to torso to arm, leading to sustained velocity and great ability to manipulate the baseball.

So why, with the higher K% in the minor leagues this year, was Hurt’s call to the show deemed shocking? Saying he was inconsistent in 2022 would be a nice way to put it. Last season between High-A Great Lakes and Double-A Tulsa, he had 11 outings where he had more walks than innings pitched. In four of these outings, he failed to finish one inning of work while mostly working as a starter. The scary four letter ‘Y’ word was thrown around but the Dodgers found a way to fix him this season. The Dodgers kept Hurt in Tulsa until last month likely because of last year’s rollercoaster of a season. These woes led to Hurt sitting idly by while many of his teammates in Tulsa received calls to The Show including Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot, and Emmet Sheehan.

Top average fastball velocities in professional baseball through June 11th. Source: Baseball America

Hurt had to put up an incredible body of work in 2023 to even be considered for a promotion in September. While he had one minor blip this season (7 BB in 3.2 IP on July 30th in Springfield), he has otherwise been a model of consistency. Other than that one July outing, he hasn’t had a single performance with more walks than innings pitched and has had more strikeouts than innings pitched in 23 of his 27 outings. His 11.8 BB% in Tulsa and 10.1 BB% in Oklahoma City are each only 2-3% worse than league average in each level while his 39 K% on the season is over 16% better than Double-A and Triple-A league averages.

With his newfound command (>60th percentile in zone rate on all pitches), his elite pitch profiles, lower than average release height for a four-seam (5’6″), and platoon neutral approach, he should be a nightmare for hitters. In fact, his above average walk rates are even more explainable considering his incredibly low contact rate against, leading to deep counts.

Hurt has worked as both a starter and reliever in his pro career but debuted as a reliever in a two inning sting against the Padres on September 12th. He induced three ground balls in his first inning and struck out the side in his second inning on two change ups and a fastball—all swinging. The Dodgers have recently been using a piggy back system with some of their younger arms and Hurt would fit the bill perfectly there, and he certainly projects as a long term starter with his four pitch mix and array of offerings to both right and left handed hitters.

The classic Dodgers mold is four seam fastball pitchers and gyro sliders. While Hurt learned his change up long ago, his slider is just as good as many of the other young LA arms in their stable, and he didn’t even use it in his debut. His gyro slider averages 88 mph but was an afterthought compared to his bread and butter UFO. Using only two pitches to mow down six straight San Diego hitters is a small look into why he may project as a starter long term—his additional pitches are not only above average but would offer hitters different looks deeper into games, allowing him to remain unpredictable. And, even if a hitter does know what’s coming, they are yet to show that they can do anything with it. Hurt’s ‘Stuff’ is as good as it comes, and if he remains consistent, he has all the keys necessary to unlock a full year of service time in 2024.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Account / Login