In the spring of 2015, right-handed pitcher Kyle Funkhouser was a potential top 10 draft pick out of the University of Louisville. He had a plus fastball that reached 97 miles per hour with movement, a plus slider with sharp movement, and the projectability scouts salivate over. But in the months leading up to the draft, his velocity dropped off. He ended up sliding to the 35th overall pick where the Los Angeles Dodgers picked him up. The two sides were unable to come to an agreement, as Funkhouser, represented by super agent Scott Boras, asked for much more than the slot recommended bonus. Instead, Funkhouser ended up returning to college for his senior season, hoping to rebuild his value as a first round pick.
The gamble ultimately failed. Funkhouser’s velocity sat at 89-93 mph for most of the year, his walk rate climbed, and the strikeouts fell. Late in his senior season, though, his velocity began to creep up. His raw stuff returned, leading to a late surge in draft stock. The Tigers, after sitting out the second and third rounds of the 2016 draft following a pair of big money free agent signings, grabbed Funkhouser in the fourth round. They ultimately signed him for $750,000, well shy of the $2 million he turned down from the Dodgers the year before.
That said, he doesn’t seem to regret his decision.
"I don't regret a single thing I did last year, coming back. I wouldn't change a single thing about it. Coming back here, I had a great experience, a great time, got my degree."
Funkhouser would be assigned to the New York-Penn League after signing. In a limited sample size, he put up some impressive numbers. In 37.1 innings he pitched to a 2.65 ERA with 34 strikeouts and just eight walks in 37 1⁄3 innings, a 1.13 WHIP. His velocity remained high but given the small workload he endured — he only once threw more than three innings in a start — a full season’s work in the minors will tell us much more about his future.
Funkhouser’s fastball is his main pitch. It has garnered plus ratings when the velocity is higher. It has been a flat offering in the past, particularly during his downward spiral in 2015. The version he threw in 2016 has good arm-side movement, making it difficult to square up when it’s on. One scouting report offered some insight on Funkhouser’s fastball. This comes from a couple of games in early 2016 when he was still at Louisville and his velocity had yet to fully return.
The first time I was able to see Funkhouser, he sat sat 90-91 mph for the first few innings, but once he loosened up on a cold February day, he worked at 93-94 mph in the middle innings. More recently, he was able to maintain his velocity at 91-93 mph until the 8th inning when he dipped slightly to 89-90 mph.
Funkhouser’s main secondary pitch is his slider, which has flashed good bite and velocity at times. Some scouts noted he began to shy away from using it so much in his senior season. Instead, Funkhouser opted for a curveball. Scouts don’t seem too wild about this pitch compared to the slider. However, some feel it could develop in to an average pitch and be used as a change of pace to keep hitters off his two harder offerings.
Here is a bit more from FanGraph’s Eric Longenhagen on Funkhouser’s secondary offerings.
His slider, somewhat blunt but late-biting, has historically been his best secondary pitch and was routinely plus early in college. His curveball has some power to it, and most scouts think it works best as a change-of-pace, early-count strike. Because the changeup is below average and lacks projection, however, the curve might also be his best option against left-handed hitters if he can learn to locate it down and in.
Scounts have noted some inconsistencies in Funkhouser’s mechanics, which in turn limit his control and overall projection. TigsTown’s Mark Anderson worries that this could be a long-term problem.
Inconsistent; abbreviated windup; short stride; quick arm when things are going right for him; will fall to 1B pretty hard at times, leaving him out of position to field at times; typically works standard ¾ slot; significant challenges repeating delivery throughout career.
Mechanics can be fine tuned under the right pitching guidance, though, so the Tigers will have a definite project on their hands. If they can tweak his delivery to improve his command, that will significantly improve his value.
Not only is his command subpar, Funkhouser’s raw stuff has taken a hit since his junior season. His fastball is slower, his slider has less bite, his curve was never all that vicious, and his changeup is the pitch of his that shows the least projection. Prospect Junkies noted that Funkhouser shook off his catcher in favor of the changeup while in college, but it is not particularly good.
Funkhouser’s future role will almost entirely hinge on how well the Tigers coaches can refine his delivery and how his body responds to the regular stress of a full season. Anderson echoes this in his projection assessment of Funkhouser.
Current profile suggests back-end starter or power reliever; return of previous FB velocity and strong SL could push projection back to more high-leverage reliever; control improvement would lead to potential #3 starter projection; lots of work to do; considerable amount of risk in profile despite college pedigree; may require 2-3 years before reaching MLB radar; role projection very volatile.
If Funkhouser’s velocity keeps fluctuating as his workload increases, he will head to the bullpen where his raw stuff could play up. In addition, he will need to develop much better command if he wants to stick as a starter.
Jacob’s Scouting Report
Projected Team: West Michigan Whitecaps
Funkhouser is a great example of the “boom or bust” type prospect. If it all comes together, most see him as a solid No. 3 starter that eats plenty of innings. If that doesn’t work out, he will have to fight his way through the system to be the next in a long line of right-handed relievers called up for bullpen depth. It could be a couple years until we get a better feel on what Funkhouser’s real projection will be. There is a lot to like, but also just as much doubt as to whether he can return to the top form scouts raved about two years ago. That said, getting a guy with his upside in the fourth round of the draft was a major accomplishment for the Tigers. He’ll likely start the year in West Michigan.