FORT MYERS, Fla. – Five years ago this week, a big, strong, high school right-hander from Las Vegas, Nev., walked out under the roof of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis and prepared to pitch in front of a large national scouting contingent at the 2009 Perfect Game National Showcase.
Nick Kingham was then a 6-foot-5, 210-pound senior-to-be at Sierra Vista High School who used a fastball that sat 88-90 mph, a 75 mph curveball and 79 mph changeup to earn a perfect 10.0 PG Grade and a spot on the Top Prospect List at the event.
Flip the calendar ahead 60 months and it was almost like seeing double with a five-year time warp.
Las Vegas prep right-hander Nolan Kingham is a 6-foot-4, 185-pound senior-to-be at Sierra Vista High School who spent the last two days at JetBlue Park participating in this year’s Perfect Game National Showcase.
He pitched two innings late Sunday night, showed a fastball that sat 88-91 mph, an 82 mph changeup and an 11-to-5 curveball that came in at 78 mph. Nolan’s grade, unlike that of his older brother’s, is still pending.
Nolan wasn’t able to make the trip to Minneapolis to watch his brother perform at the PG National five years ago, but he received a full report: “He said it was incredible; he said there were a lot people there watching him,” Nolan recalled.
There were also a lot of people (re: scouts) watching Nolan Kingham pitch Sunday night, and while his fastball velocity of 91 mph didn’t approach that of the 19 pitchers that threw at least 93 mph – six hit 94 and two touched 95 – before Monday’s two games, he did make an impression.
“(Kingham) has a lot of upside and last night he showed improvement with his changeup,” PG scouting supervisor Todd Gold said Monday morning. “From where he was a year ago this year, he’s gotten a lot better.”
Kingham traveled nearly all the way across the country without his parents, Don and Roxane, mostly because he plans on being on the road for most of the next five weeks where he will be in the able custody of host families and other caring folks. Despite traveling solo, he said he felt it was important he was at the PG National Showcase, which this year was being held about 2,100 air miles from his Las Vegas home.
“I knew I would be playing against the top kids from across the country and I wanted to showcase my talent and see if I could compete with these guys,” he said Sunday. “I want to see how (good) I actually really am and see how well I can compete with everyone. I’ll try to treat this like a normal game. It’s just going out there and going pitch-by-pitch; it’s just another game and another time on the mound.”
Kingham came into the PG National ranked as the No. 14 overall prospect in the country in his high school class of 2015, and as the No. 2-ranked right-handed pitcher (he is the No. 1-ranked prospect in Nevada). He was born and raised in Las Vegas, a city with reputation of bright lights and a shady underworld not often equated with clean, family living, but Kingham views it an entirely different light.
“Vegas is definitely a baseball city,” Kingham said with certain exuberance in his voice. “There is a lot of (high school-aged) talent but there are also a lot of schools in Vegas so all the talent is separated. You can usually only find one or two really good kids on each team, so (the talent) is evenly spread out.” (He was, perhaps, inadvertently overlooking Bishop Gorman High School, a traditional Las Vegas power that has won national championships in recent years).
Kingham has been a solid two-way player for Sierra Vista High School over the past two seasons. As a sophomore, he was 6-3 with 2.08 ERA in 12 appearances, striking out 51 and walking 20; he hit .364 with five home runs and 41 RBI. This past spring he was 5-2 with a 3.43 ERA and struck out 40 in 53 innings; he hit .412 with 14 doubles and a .663 slugging percentage.
There are going to be plenty of things to keep Kingham busy when he leaves Fort Myers. He will fly from here to Cary, N.C., for USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars and then will spend the next four weeks playing with the Ohio Warhawks at various tournaments.
A highlight of his time spent with the Warhawks came last year at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in October, when he was a member of a roster that included left-handers and 2014 MLB June Amateur Draft first-round picks Kodi Mederios (Brewers) and Justus Sheffield (Indians).
Perhaps even more noteworthy were the number of top-of-the-line 2015s on the Warhawks roster, including third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes (Tomball, Texas), third baseman/right-hander Ty Buck (Redwing, Minn.), left-hander Erik Cha (Chino Hills, Calif.) and shortstop Cadyn Grenier (Henderson, Nev.). Each of those prospects was at the PG National at some point over the last five days.
“That was an awesome experience,” Kingham said of the trip to Jupiter. “I felt like a celebrity; it was crazy.”
Kingham was named the Top Prospect at the 2013 Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games in San Diego in August. He was listed as a primary shortstop at that time but wowed the scouts with his pitching prowess at the event; one PG scout noted “his future is clearly on the mound, potentially as a first-rounder in 2015.”
The person that has had the most impact on Kingham’s baseball career remains his 22-year-old brother, Nick, who is in his fifth season playing minor league ball. Now a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder, Nick was a fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft right of Siesta Vista High and just recently was promoted to the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis.
“He’s had a huge influence on me; he’s my idol,” Kingham said. “He still lives with us (during the offseason) so every time he’s home he’s always working with me and trying to figure things and trying to fine-tune me; it’s awesome.”
There are a lot of similarities between Nick and Nolan Kingham.
“His brother was a late developer,” PG vice president of player personnel David Rawnsley said, “but he really blossomed at about 19 or 20 (years old) with his overall stuff. He might be like his brother in that we know there’s another level there and it’s just a matter of time; it could happen in the next two months and it might happen in two years, but there’s definitely another level there that he will ratchet it up to.”
Nick Kingham had signed with the University of Oregon before accepting his offer from the Pirates; Nolan Kingham has committed to the University of Texas in Austin.
“My whole family is from Texas and it’s always been our family’s dream school, but no one (from the family) has ever gone there,” Kingham said. “I got some interest from them and got some contact and I felt right at home. I just fell in love with it.”
The curtain fell on the 2014 Perfect Game National Showcase at JetBlue Park early Monday afternoon, just as it did on the 2009 version at the Metrodome on June 15 of that year. The Kingham brothers have brought the event full circle within their own family and Nolan Kingham will always carry with him a specific ethic passed on from his big brother.
“He’s a workhorse,” Nolan said, “so I realize how much it really takes to be the best.”