The Kansas City Royals seemed to have missed on their first round picks back in 2015. Both Ashe Russell and Nolan Watson were performing well below expectations. Fortunately, one seems to be making a change in the right direction.
The Kansas City Royals drafted two high school pitchers back in 2015 that were supposed to have high ceilings. Ashe Russell and Nolan Watson were both projected to be potential arms for the Royals in the near future, but whether they were rotational arms or bullpen arms depended on their development.
Russell hasn’t worked out for the Royals. Production wise, he struggled with the Royals rookie affiliate, Burlington Royals, with a 4.21 ERA over 11 starts and 36.1 innings. He struck out just 24 batters and walked 13. In 2016 he made one appearance with the Royals Arizona team before having to take a personal leave. Since then he has come back to baseball and the Royals and is back in Arizona working out with the team.
That means the Royals were looking to Watson to save their first-round of the draft. After seemingly striking out with the previous year with their first-round picks, Foster Griffin and Chase Vallot, the Royals really needed Watson to be productive. Unfortunately, it looked like they were going to miss on four of the five picks they had in the first-round over the two years.
Luckily, that seems to be changing
When you look at what Watson has done with his professional career, he has done very little to get you excited. In 2015, he posted a 4.91 ERA over 11 starts and 29.1 innings, which. That’s just over 2.0 innings per start and averaged out to 7.36 runs allowed per nine innings. He also struck out just 16 batters while walking 11.
2016 wasn’t much better for Watson. He was promoted to the Royals A-Ball team, Lexington Legends, but struggled more. There, he posted a 7.57 ERA over 24 starts and 96.1 innings. That averages out to 8.88 runs allowed per nine innings while striking out 60 and walking 44.
2017 wasn’t much different, posting a 7.87 ERA between three leagues with 18 starts over 22 appearances. When all hope seemed to be lost, and yet another year where the Royals missed on a first-round pick, Watson seemed to figure it out in 2018.
This year with the teams Advanced A-Ball affiliate, the now 21-year-old pitcher has a 4.23 ERA. While that number isn’t jaw-dropping, when looking further it does get better. Over his last 9 games in Wilmington, he has a 3.88 ERA over 44.1 innings, with 29 strikeouts and 18 walks.
While his strikeout numbers are less than ideal, the fact that he is having success while pitching is hopeful. In fact, since moving to Wilmington he has six games where he allows three or less runs out of the 10 games he’s appeared in. Of those six games, he allowed zero runs in three.
He is slowly figuring things out on the mound. I would be willing to bet his professional career is taking much longer to develop than the front office originally anticipated, too. But he is still really young.
While his numbers won’t blow you away, it is worth paying attention too. He could find himself being bumped to Double-A next year, if not at the end of this year, and is he is able to show some success there then the Royals might be in business.
With the number of pitchers they drafted this year who are having success as a professional, Watson can easily get lost in the mix. Meaning, he is going to have to work that much harder to keep his name in the forefront of people’s minds. If he can continue having some success, or more success than he has shown in the past, then the Royals could have something special.
The Royals should be encouraged by what they have seen from Watson recently. What do you think Royals fans?