Breakout candidate: Blue Jays’ Kloffenstein
MiLB.com's Breakout Candidate series spotlights players who could garner some serious attention in 2022. Here's a look at Blue Jays No. 7 prospect Adam Kloffenstein. The 2021 season was one that Adam Kloffenstein would surely like to put behind him. Kloffenstein sputtered to a 7-7 record, 6.22 ERA and .243
MiLB.com's Breakout Candidate series spotlights players who could garner some serious attention in 2022. Here's a look at Blue Jays No. 7 prospect Adam Kloffenstein.
The 2021 season was one that Adam Kloffenstein would surely like to put behind him.
Kloffenstein sputtered to a 7-7 record, 6.22 ERA and .243 opponent’s batting average with 61 free passes and seven hit batsmen for High-A Vancouver. But despite the difficult season, the Blue Jays’ seventh-ranked prospect often showed that this could be a springboard for something special in 2022.
When looking at Kloffenstein’s year -- even while mining for positives -- it’s important to consider just how much was working against him in 2021.
Kloffenstein pitched most of the season before his 21st birthday, making him one of the younger players at the level. In fact, he was second youngest in the High-A West at the start of the year.
The Magnolia, Texas, native was drafted by Toronto in the third round in 2018 -- just 76 picks after the Jays selected Kloffenstein’s high school teammate, Jordan Groshans. Kloffenstein made 15 starts over his first two seasons, all at the Rookie or Short Season level, and compiled an impressive 2.17 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 66 1/3 total innings.
The pandemic denied Kloffenstein a chance to build off the excellent start to his professional career. He didn’t participate in the Jays’ alternate site in Rochester, but he did find a way to play competitive games in 2020.
Toronto granted Kloffenstein permission to pitch in the independent Constellation Energy League, where he was coached by Roger Clemens. The competition was fairly advanced for a teenager and mostly consisted of former Major Leaguers and players who could hold their own at the upper levels of the Minors.
Kloffenstein had a hard time in independent ball and pitched to a 4.64 ERA with 20 strikeouts and 12 walks in 21 1/3 innings.
"I think it definitely had a big impact on him," Blue Jays assistant director of player development Joe Sclafani told MLB.com before the season. "He was around a lot of advanced guys. He was one of the youngest guys in the league too. Being on Roger Clemens' team and talking to a bunch of guys, I think it just helped open his eyes to some different ways of doing things, and he tried to pick and choose what he liked, what will work for him. ... He struggled a little bit, and he was candid about that when we talked about it. But it was great that he has used that to fuel his fire a little bit."
There was enough excitement for the big right-hander entering the 2021 season that he was given an aggressive assignment to High-A. While it wasn’t uncommon for clubs to have players bypass a level coming out of the pandemic, it was a change of pace from the cautious approach Toronto took with Kloffenstein out of the Draft.
From start to finish, Kloffenstein, for the most part, struggled to get results in his first full season. And there wasn’t much in the box scores to actually show for his successes.
Kloffenstein did strike out 107 batters in 101 1/3 innings last season. Carrying that sort of workload for the first time at his young age is it’s own accomplishment. But he was also one of only 92 pitchers across all levels of the Minors to complete 100 innings and sport a K/9 above 9.0. The other side of that coin, however, was that his ERA was the worst among that group and more than a half a run higher than the next pitcher on that list, Cardinals prospect Dalton Roach (5.65).
In addition, there were some noticeable control issues in 2021 that were also apparent in his short stretch in independent ball. These troubles weren’t as drastic in 2019. Kloffenstein saw his BB/9 jump from 3.22 in Short Season ball to 5.42 this past year. But he also seemed to correct whatever was causing those issues toward the end of the season.
After his first 14 starts in 2021, Kloffenstein held a 16.4 percent walk rate, but in his final nine starts, he got that figure down to 8.6 percent. Oddly enough, his ERA was actually worse (6.29) over the season’s stretch run than it was to open the year (6.16). But it’s still encouraging to see a young player cut down on self-inflicted damage.
The 6-foot-5, 243-pound hurler follows Nate Pearson and Alek Manoah in a line of large-framed pitching prospects produced in the Blue Jays system. Although Kloffenstein isn’t necessarily short on fastball velocity, he isn’t the same type of power pitcher that those other two can be. Kloffenstein throws two distinctive heaters, but his best pitch is a hard-sinking fastball that sits around 93-94 mph. He has a good feel for a slider and is still developing a changeup and curveball.
The big frame and deep arsenal should allow him to continue developing as a starter. And with his best pitch being a sinker, he’ll likely rely on grounders to get outs. Fortunately, he was able to induce ground ball contact 53 percent of the time, which ranks ninth among the 92 pitchers in the previously mentioned group.
Player development will always require some incredible patience. Kloffenstein trended in a direction that will likely cause him to take an initial dip in future rankings -- even in a system that’s moved a lot of high-ranking prospects in recent trades. But he’s going to get his chances to bounce back.
If he can keep his walk rate closer to where he had it at the end of the 2021 season, continue to get the desired ground ball contact at an impressive rate and develop the changeup and curveball, Kloffenstein can re-establish himself as one of the best pitchers in the system.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.