If you read this blog regularly (or any Royals-related blog, really) you know about the top prospects in the Royals organization. Names like Kyle Zimmer, Yordano Ventura, and Raul Mondesi, have been discussed quite a bit in this space, and rightfully so. They’re among the top 30 prospects in all of baseball, and their potential obviously merits recognition. However, an organizational farm system is made up of more than just its top three prospects, so I thought I’d cover a few of the players with perhaps a lower ceiling, but who could still make an impact in the big leagues at some point. In the next week or two, I’ll break down a few of these prospects to keep an eye on in 2014. Thus far, I’ve written about Christian Binford (here), Orlando Calixte (here), Brett Eibner (here), and Zane Evans (here). Now, it’s time to discuss a pitcher with arguably the best name in the Royals’ organization: Brooks Pounders.
Pounders came to the Royals in the 2011 trade that sent Yamaico Navarro to the Pirates. After being drafted in 2009, Pounders was used mostly out of the bullpen, making just 9 starts and 52 relief appearances in his first 3 seasons. However, the Royals must have seen something they liked, because since that trade, Pounders has made 42 starts and only 13 relief appearances. In his first season as a Royals’ farmhand, he struck out almost a batter per inning, while walking just 3 batters per 9 innings, although both of those numbers regressed a bit in 2013. While pitching at AA Northwest Arkansas, Pounders had a K/9 of 7.8 and a BB/9 of 3.3. His ERA of 4.50 wasn’t very shiny, even taking into account the hitter-friendly home ballpark. Oddly enough, Pounders was much better at Arvest Ballpark (3.38 ERA) than on the road (5.21 ERA).
After starting out the season from the bullpen, Pounders transitioned back to the rotation in May, and his results alternated between awful and awfully good for the last 4 months.
May: 23 IP, 5.09 ERA, 6.7 K/9, 3.5 BB/9
June: 28.1 IP, 3.81 ERA, 7.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
July: 33 IP, 6.27 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 4.1 BB/9
August: 14 IP, 2.57 ERA, 9 K/9, 1.9 BB/9
The data is kind of all over the place there, although it is encouraging to see his strikeout rate increasing in each month. One would hope that positive results would follow improving peripherals, although a fly ball pitcher like Pounders can always become homer prone, which was one of the causes of his struggles in July (5 HR allowed in 33 IP).
Pounders’ highlight of the season came on his June 27 start, when he threw a no-hitter against the Midland Rockhounds, using just 98 pitches – 70 of which were strikes – in the process. He struck out 6, walked none, and faced only 29 batters. The only 2 Rockhounds to reach base did so on a fielding error and a hit by pitch. While the opposing lineup wasn’t exactly filled with future All Stars, a no-hitter (and a Maddux, no less) is still a heck of an accomplishment.
When Pounders was drafted, his changeup was described as a plus pitch, and his fastball sat around 90 MPH. Since then, the 23 year old righty has added a bit more, touching 93 MPH at times. Standing at 6’4″, 225 lbs, Pounders is able to get a good downward plane on his fastball, although it doesn’t appear that he uses much of a sinker, since his ground ball rate was around 36% last season. Another scouting report suggests Pounders also has a pair of solid breaking pitches that he’s learned to use more frequently in recent years, but they haven’t propelled him into the upper rankings of Royals’ prospect lists.. In total, most people wouldn’t really say that Pounders has electric stuff. What he does have is quite a bit of polish, and he knows how to pitch with what he has. At this point in his development, it’s unlikely that Pounders adds any more velocity, but his poise on the mound and his decent repertoire could help him become a back of the rotation starter in the big leagues. That’s not the sexiest projection in the world, but his youth does allow for a bit higher ceiling if everything goes well.
The rotation in Omaha is starting to look a little crowded, with guys like Chris Dwyer, John Lamb, Jason Adam, Sugar Ray Marimon, and Brad Penny all vying for spots, and that’s not even mentioning Yordano Ventura, Kyle Zimmer, or any of the several other minor league signings the Royals have made this winter. Pounders could insert himself into the thick of that competition in the spring, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he started out back in Northwest Arkansas until he forces the organization’s hand. Even with limited upside, Pounders will certainly be worth paying attention to in 2014.