With pitchers and catchers reporting in three days—thank you sweet Jesus—this will be the final “Royal Busts” post from me for a little while. I will work a couple in before the season starts intermittently, but I don’t plan on making it a part of my regular posting diet.
This edition of Royal Busts is a little closer to my “generation” of Royals fandom. Left-handed wunderkind, Jimmy Gobble.
The Royals drafted Gobble as a sandwich pick in the 1999 MLB draft out of high school in Bristol, Virginia. His legal name is Billy James Gobble and he was originally from Bristol, Tenn. And trust me, the awesome country name coupled with his propensity to reside in towns sharing the same name as ESPN headquarters were just the beginning of his hype. He could actually pitch too.
Gobble was the Royals’ second-rated prospect in 2002 at the age of 20, behind one-of-a-kind bust Angel Berroa. (I can’t bring myself to compiling an entire blog post dedicated to Berroa. It would be much too painful.) As a prospect he had an average fastball, good command, a nasty breaking pitch and an average change up.
Gobble’s first year in the big leagues was 2003, when he pitched 52.2 innings and compiled 31 strike outs, while giving up just 15 walks and posted an ERA of 4.61. Not bad for a 21-year-old in his first professional season. He was a part of Manager Tony Pena’s “We Believe” team that boasted a seven-game division lead at the All-Star break before succumbing to reality and ultimately finishing third behind the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins.
However, there was promise abound about the rookie’s exploits and there was thought that he could develop into the impact starting lefty that the organization has been void of for the better part of a decade.
Yes, 2004 was going to be the start of a new era in Kansas City. Baseball was back and the Royals were officially labeled as “contenders” in the AL Central. They had come up just short the previous year, but with some youth infusion in the pitching staff, as well as the returning AL Rookie of the Year at shortstop in Angel Berroa, Gold Glove and All-Star center fielder Carlos Beltran, and newly acquired long-ball enthusiast—ten years prior albeit—Juan Gonzalez and All-Star DH Mike Sweeney.
To top it off, the Royals teased us with an opening day that I and many fans will never forget. The boys in blue trailed the White Sox 7-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth. After scoring a run off a Benito Santiago double, Mendy Lopez stepped to the plate. Lopez crushed a three-run homer to tie the game and send the sold-out crowd of 41,575 into a frenzy. Then, the unthinkable occurred. Berroa singled next, and Beltran stepped up to the plate and sent a ball over the left field wall, giving the Royals a 9-7 walk-off victory and fans blinded hope for a magical season.
We all know how the rest of the story goes. The cliff notes version will show you that Beltran didn’t finish the season with the club and instead displayed those thrilling exploits with the Houston Astros in the post season, while the Royals finished 58-104 and last place in the AL Central.
Gobble was also a part of that.
I’m not sure if any prospect in the Royals system that endured that boom-to-bust season really stood a chance to be successful with the organization. It was a chilling and heartbreaking reality to the fans, players and soon-to-be unemployed GM Allard Baird.
Gobble scuffled through 148 innings that season and struck out just 49, while walking 43. He posted a 5.35 ERA, but did have a 9-8 record—if you’re into that sort of thing. His WHIP of 1.351 jump-started a steady decline that would take place over the next several years.
He spent half of 2005 with AAA Omaha and finished it with the Royals, posting a 5.70 ERA in 53.2 innings and an abysmal WHIP of 1.752. It was clear that he was not catching on as a big leaguer in the starting role, as his outings were often short and he possessed the nails-on-a-chalkboard trait of nibbling with batters.
In 2006 he began his transition to the bullpen. He performed at an average rate, mostly as a setup man, but he was no Greg Holland coming out of the bullpen. As a last stitch effort, the Royals fiddled with Gobble’s mechanics and got him to try a side-arm approach, as a way of creating deception with his delivery to throw off lefty hitters. And it was actually quite affective for a brief stint.
Gobble was arguably the Royals’ second best reliever in 2007 behind Joakim Soria, as he posted a 3.02 ERA in 53.2 innings and gave up just six home runs, while striking out 50 and walking just 23. He was a star in his LOOGY role, for a season.
As it seems to go in the majors, when the stuff ultimately isn’t there, the league quickly adjusts to crazy antics. Just ask Daisuke Matsusaka and his “Gyro Ball.” Gobble’s 2008 season was the last with the organization and he reverted back to his old form. Appearing in 39 games and posting a 8.81 ERA in 31.2 innings and striking out just 27, while walking 23. He also posted a career-high WHIP of 1.958.
Gobble had a brief stint with the Chicago White Sox in 2009 and most recently was in the Colorado Rockies minor-league system. He’s 30 years old now and I haven’t seen him pitch for two full seasons.
I had high hopes for Gobble when I watched him pitch in 2003-04. I thought he along side Zach Greinke would give the Royals the perfect 1-2 punch in the rotation for years to come.
It obviously never came to fruition. But, as I alluded to earlier, a lot of things didn’t surface during that time with the franchise. It can be labeled for Royals fans around my age as one of the more disappointing periods since we followed the team. And considering the amount of losing we’ve seen, that’s tough to do.
The difference between promise and fulfillment is a dichotomy that my kind has yet to see. But like many other unfound things in this world, we know it exists.
—GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE—