Michael King is finally back on track.
After a promising 2018 campaign, one that concluded with a 4-0 record and 1.15 ERA in six starts with the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders after starting the year with High-A Tampa, the 24-year-old right-hander had a promising outlook on the upcoming the season. But it was put on hold when King experienced elbow discomfort throwing a bullpen session just days before he was set to report to his first big-league spring training.
At first, King was hoping for a May 1 return to the RailRiders. But just as King started to make progress in his rehab, he suffered a setback that has kept him out of game action up until this point.
That changes on Thursday when King is scheduled to pitch one inning in the Gulf Coast League. He has already thrown two live bullpen sessions.
“Everything’s been great,” King told Pinstriped Prospects. “Just need to build to five innings.”
King hopes to make his RailRiders debut in the first week of August.
The New York Yankees’ No. 12 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, expects to do his rehab with Class-A Short Season Staten Island. Tentatively, he’ll pitch four innings on July 26 and a five-inning outing on July 31. If everything goes well, he would join the RailRiders.
However, King cautions that the schedule can change. The Yankees haven’t told him a solidified plan yet, but this is the schedule he assumes he’ll follow.
“Trust me, I’m trying to push them to let me go as fast as possible,” King said. “I’m grinding through it and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m just trying to salvage as much as I can for the remainder of the season.”
When King finally makes his return to Triple-A, he’ll bring an improved repertoire with him to Moosic.
King has been working on a four-seam fastball up in the zone “for strikes” to help battle launch angles. He also continued to retool his cutter, which was a pitch he introduced late last season.
“I just think with all the launch-angle stuff and all of that kind of analytics that are coming out is getting hitters on the plane with a two-seamer,” King said. “As much as I feel I have a good groundball rate, I never want to lose that, and I feel like throwing a good four-seamer up in the zone can kind of flatten out the barrel just enough to get my sinker underneath their’s to keep getting those ground balls.
“Just kind of being able to access the plate with that cutter and two-seamer more consistently than it was. I know I let up a bomb in the playoffs on the hanging cutter. Just make sure I limit those mistakes.”
King hasn’t forgotten about the pitch that helped him rise through the Yankees’ farm system last year, either.
He put some more work into his glove-side fastball — a fastball in on a right-handed batter and away on a left-handed hitter. His slider drew some attention as well.
“The biggest thing that I’ll always want to improve on, and I think I’ll struggle with it my entire career, is a glove-side fastball consistently,” King said. “There are days that I don’t feel as comfortable in my mechanics and I get really rotational and my sinker starts moving more laterally than vertically and I start leaving the glove side or I start yanking it. That’s when I get in trouble because I start working with half the plate.
“With a glove-side fastball and a slider that I have confidence in, I feel like I can get anybody out, any hitter out. Once I get those two things down, my feeling rises a little bit.”