Not sure if you’ve taken note or not, but Howie Kendrick is tearing it up as a member of the Washington Nationals. In 15 games with the Nats, Kendrick has a slash line of 4-11-.354/.392/.667, and with the injury to Bryce Harper, has been a huge addition to the offense. That, combined with his performance with the Phillies, puts Kendrick’s season numbers at a combined 6-27-.344/.396/.508 in 54 games. It would be interesting to see his numbers had he not had two extended stints on the DL while with the Phillies.
Three days before the trade deadline, the Phillies sent Kendrick to the Nationals for international slot money and minor league left-hander McKenzie Mills. On the season, Mills had pitched at Low-A Hagerstown in the Nationals organization, but had been bumped up to High-A the day before being shipped to the Phillies. The Phillies kept Mills at the High-A level, assigning him to Clearwater.
In three starts for the Threshers, Mills has had one good outing, one decent outing and one bad outing, going from five innings, allowing just one run to giving up 11 hits and four runs in 4 2/3 innings his last time out. Overall, he’s 0-1 with a 4.60 ERA and has given up 21 hits in 15 2/3 innings, while also striking out 16. The best part of his line is that he hasn’t walked a batter, but has hit one batter and has one wild pitch. His walk numbers weren’t always quite as impressive as they have been this season, but they’ve never been bad. The improvement this year has been attributed to a slight mechanical adjustment that has him throwing more strikes.
The reports on Mills basically highlight his curveball, which he uses as an effective enough pitch that he can pitch backwards to hitters, keeping them off-stride. His fastball is generally in the 91-93 range with decent movement. Mills also has a slider, which is basically just a slightly harder version than his curve, and a change-up that could be the pitch that Mills will need to compliment his other pitches. he gets good sink on the change and doesn’t tip the pitch. When he is really on with the change-up, he gets good cutting action.
With Hagerstown this season, he was striking out a career-high 10.1 batters per nine innings, but likely won’t keep up that pace at the higher levels. Coming into the season, he had averaged 6.7 K/9 in the Nationals organization, and it’s likely that he’ll generally be somewhere between those two numbers.
Mills has good size (6′ 4″, 205 pounds) and pitches from a 3/4 arm slot. Whether it’s from the mechanical tinkering that the Nationals did with Mills or something else, he doesn’t always repeat his mechanics well, which limits the break on some of his pitches.
The biggest concern about Mills? He has a tendency to give up a lot of flyballs. Coming into this season, his GO/AO percentage was 0.52, meaning that he’s getting a lot more outs in the air than he is on the ground. Combining his season numbers with Hagerstown and Clearwater, his season GO/AO stands at 0.53. On the season, he’s averaging one home run allowed for every nine innings, just above his 0.8 HR/9 career average.
At just 21, there is still some room for improvement from Mills, who has already developed as a pitcher and produced better numbers than what he had shown in the lower levels of the minors, thanks to tinkering with his mechanics. The question is going to be whether he can learn to keep the ball down in the zone better than he has in his career, because his GO/AO numbers are simply too low to be truly effective as he climbs to the upper levels of the minors.