The Kansas City Royals and Their Problems Developing Starting Pitching


Sep 17, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura (30) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

To paraphrase the mid 1980’s band Timbuk3, the future for the Kansas City Royals pitching staff is thought to be so bright that one needs to wear shades. However, unlike the band’s ironic usage of the term in their song about nuclear holocaust, the Royals are expected to have a bright future with their starting rotation. Yordano Ventura is thought of as a potential second starter, and is expected to be a part of the Royals rotation by the end of this year. Kyle Zimmer is expected to develop into a future staff ace, and may make his debut as soon as September of this year.

Both pitchers have been invited to the major league side for Spring Training, although it is unlikely that either breaks camp with the team. Yes, that experience may help prepare both pitchers as they get ready for the moment when they receive the call that they will be heading up to Kansas City, hopefully to stay and remain as top options in the starting rotation. Along with Danny Duffy, Zimmer and Ventura are expected to be the Big Three that will take the Royals through the rest of this decade.

The Royals have been here before. John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Duffy, Tim Melville and Sam Runion, to name a few, were all expected to be key parts of the Royals pitching staff at one time or another. With the exception of Duffy, none of those pitchers have reached the major leagues yet. In fact, of all the pitchers that the Royals have drafted under the regime of Dayton Moore, only Aaron Crow and Greg Holland have really made an impact upon the Royals roster.

Is it simply bad luck due to injuries? Duffy and Lamb both had Tommy John surgery, with Lamb struggling to come close to resembling the top pitching prospect that he once was. Even Noel Arguelles had injury issues, which may have led to his minor league struggles and being subsequently released. Or are the difficulties that the Kansas City Royals have in developing pitching prospects just simply a byproduct of their scouting and player development?

Looking at Dayton Moore’s time with the Atlanta Braves, where he was involved in the scouting and player personnel development departments, there is actually a similar pattern. Since the Braves of that era had Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, their inability to develop starting pitching was overlooked. The best pitchers to come out of that era for the Braves, Adam Wainwright and Matt Harrison, were traded away before they reached Atlanta.

That same sort of scenario may be playing out once again. Jake Odorizzi had been a solid pitching prospect when he was acquired as part of the Zack Greinke trade, but had lost some of that luster before being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays. With the Rays, Odorizzi had greater success during his time in the majors, and may be back to being thought of as a middle of the rotation type of pitcher. Mike Montgomery was inconsistent last season for the Rays during his stops in Charlotte and Durham, but he appeared to be getting closer to the form that made him a highly touted prospect.

Granted, the Rays have had plenty of success with their pitching reclamation projects. They have also been able to develop young pitchers with a high level of success. Seemingly every year, there are another two or three young starters ready to fill the roles vacated by high priced veterans. The biggest keys to that success may be how the Rays teach their pitchers how to throw a viable changeup and get ahead of the batter. Change speeds and throw strikes. Is it really that simple?

It very well may be. The Rays have certainly been able to get results with their organizational plan for developing pitchers, while Moore and the Royals have a less than stellar track record. Yet, it is important to note that not all of these failures are directly due to Dayton Moore and his inability to scout talent. Since he was hired, the Royals have typically been considered to have had some of the better drafts each season, and the farm system has gone from an arid wasteland devoid of life (or northern New Jersey) to consistently ranking among the best in baseball. It would seem that, eventually, one or two of these prospects would pan out.

The Belgian artist Rene Magritte once said “The mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meaning is unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.” The same can be said of prospects. When a franchise has been as downtrodden as the Royals had been, there is a natural gravitation to those prospects, since they could be the saviors of the franchise. Yet, with the Royals, few of those prospects have actually panned out, and the success rate for those starters that were supposed to lead the franchise back to glory is minimal at best.

Once again, the Kansas City Royals are considered to have a bright future for their rotation, headlined by two starters that are considered to be destined to be top of the rotation arms. It may well be possible that Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer pan out and become the pitchers they are anticipated to be. There is still time for Danny Duffy to develop into the solid starting pitcher that he showed flashes of before his injury problems. The Royals unenviable streak of being unable to get their top pitching prospects to perform to expectations may well be coming to an end soon.

Until that time, there are going to be questions about how Dayton Moore and the Kansas City Royals develop their pitchers. Yet, all of those questions could go away if Ventura and Zimmer have the success that they are expected to have.