There was one name, other than Micker Adolfo, that really excited me when the roster for the Birmingham Barons was released: Konnor Pilkington.
As someone who loves the college game and covers it as well, Pilkington is a name that I’m very familiar with.
The big lefty was a workhorse for the Mississippi State Bulldogs in his last two seasons there (2017-18). As a sophomore, he posted a 3.08 ERA in 108 innings with 111 strikeouts over 17 starts with a WHIP of 1.14. He got a hit around a bit more as a junior, but still managed to throw over 100 innings across 18 starts.
He’d certainly flashed the potential to become an innings-eating starter at the back of a big-league rotation.
Because of his struggles in his junior season, Pilkington fell to the third round, where the Chicago White Sox took him — signing him under-slot, at $650,000.
Despite being a college junior, Pilkington was 20 years old when the White Sox drafted him. The profile on him then was that he could have three solid or better pitches, with a fastball sitting in the low 90s to go along with a changeup and slider. Pilkington has the additional advantage of throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, which makes him really tough on lefties.
After being drafted, Pilkington threw 14 more innings during his pro debut, but he was clearly exhausted after the long college baseball season in which his Bulldogs made it all the way to the semifinals of the College World Series (losing to the eventual champions, Oregon State, led by the No. 1 pick in 2019, Adley Rutschman).
Pilkington came back in 2019 and showed why many think he can be a solid middle-rotation arm for a long time, throwing 129 innings in 25 starts with a 4.12 ERA across both Single-A levels.
Last year was obviously a lost year for just about every prospect. But whatever he did during that time off has helped, as he has a 2.76 ERA in seven starts and 32 2⁄3 innings for the Barons to start 2021, with 34 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.888.
That’s still a very small sample size, but what I’ve seen from him is very encouraging. He’s pounding the strike zone and keeping hitters off-balance with a fastball that plays up because of his delivery and a plus-plus changeup.
Pilkington could be the next version of another current White Sox pitcher, Lance Lynn.
Lynn is 6´5´´, 270 pounds and Pilkington is 6´3´´, 230 pounds — both are big boys. One played at Ole Miss, the other at Mississippi State. And both profiled as innings eaters coming out of college, with a bulldog mentality on the mound.
That’s pretty much where the similarities end. Lynn is clearly the better prospect of the two, and features mainly a fastball, cutter, and sinker. But Pilkington could be Lynn-lite in terms of his ability to go to the post every five days, eat up some innings, and give you competitive frames.
Remember, he’s still just 23 years old and is pitching very well against competition almost two years older than him, on average. If he’s ever able to regain the velocity he had in college when he threw mid-to-upper 90s, we could see him turn into a top-of-the-rotation horse.
I’m glad to see him get out to a good start in 2021. I know the White Sox are going to be careful with all their pitchers, applying ample innings limits, but hopefully Pilkington continues to improve and show why he’s the best pitching prospect in the system nobody is talking about.