Unlike last season, when the Kansas City Royals had Brandon Finnegan, their first round pick of the 2014 MLB Amatuer Draft, rise through the system as a reliever and contribute as a reliever during their playoff push, the same would not occur this year. The Royals drafted Ashe Russell, an 18 year old out of Cathedral High School with the 21st pick, knowing it would take some time for him to make an impact on the major league level.
The development of Russell is likely to be a long process. Indeed, the Royals are being rather cautious with the young righty, as he has yet to pitch more than four innings in any of his ten outings thus far this season. Overall, Russell has produced a 0-2 record with a 4.31 ERA and a 1.372 WHiP, striking out 22 against 13 walks in his 31.2 innings of work.
Russell’s performance thus far has been somewhat outside of what one would have expected. His low three quarters delivery and fastball movement make him a natural groundball machine, as evidenced in his outing against the Danville Braves on July 29th where Russell induced 11 ground balls from the 15 batters he faced. Yet, Russell has also allowed six home runs, and has given up 28 fly balls against nine grounders in his last 58 batters faced.
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The recent fly ball barrage may be a bit of a cause for concern with Ashe Russell. Part of the reason as to why the Kansas City Royals were able to select him with the 21st overall selection is because there is a lot of debate as to whether or not Russell will be able to remain a starter. His delivery, along with his fastball/slider combination, could make him a truly effective reliever, but that lack of a third pitch could hinder his ability to remain in the rotation.
It could also be that Russell is starting to tire a bit. While his inning count is still low, there is a big difference between the pitching regimen in high school and as a professional. Russell may simply adjusting to that difference, causing that increase in fly balls and the surprisingly high home run rate.
Obviously, it is still early in Ashe Russell’s development. The Kansas City Royals top pick this past year still appears to be the type of starter that could be a possible top of the rotation arm of a truly devastating reliever. The development of that third pitch, be it a change or some other breaking pitch, could go a long way to determining Russell’s role going forward.