For years it seemed as if the Kansas City Royals could never draft and develop starting pitching. No matter how high in the draft one was taken, they always fell short of expectations. That could be changing now, though.
When you looked at the Kansas City Royals system before the 2018 season, starting pitching was a wasteland. The system was filled with hopes and long-shot prospects, none seemingly close being MLB ready or on the way to being ready.
That seems to be changing quickly right now. The offseason acquisitions, players traded for, and 2018 Draft have stocked the Royals full of potential starting pitching. I know, “potential”. We have used that word to describe many starters and they have all fallen short. Whether it be the lackluster career of Luke Hochevar as a starter, the injuries that follow Kyle Zimmer, or the fall out of many other pitching prospects, “potential” almost seems like a bad word.
But this time feels different. The type of pitchers the Royals have don’t feel as much like a project and have shown extreme amounts of success already within the system.
Not every pitcher is going to be recognized within this list. Some have started turning things around, like Foster Griffin who has a 5.15 ERA over 27 games this year, but a 3.47 ERA over his last 11 starts. While others have shown positive signs of being a consistent pitcher the Royals need.
Therefore, let’s take a look at a few.
Starters in the 2018 Draft
This year the Royals went heavy in starting pitching. Especially college pitching. In fact, their first five picks were college pitchers. Which, from the looks of it, it seems like they hit on nearly all five.
Brady Singer hasn’t pitched yet this year for the Royals due to a hamstring injury he was recovering from. However, it is believed that he will move quickly through the Royals system and is projected to be a top of the rotation type starter. I wouldn’t be surprised if his MLB.com projection of making his debut in 2020 is accurate.
When Jackon Kowar was first assigned to the Lexington Legends (A-ball), he struggled just a bit. In his first two starts, he went just 2.1 innings and gave up five earned runs. Meaning, he started his professional career with a 19.29 ERA and had four walks compared to three strikeouts.
However, since those first two games, he has turned it on. Over his next seven starts, he has a 1.88 ERA with 19 strikeouts compared to eight walks. The only downside right now is he has never gone over 4.0 innings in a start and has thrown just 24.0 innings over those seven games.
That could be because they are bringing him along a little slower due to how he was used at Florida, but it isn’t something to be too worried about. He is still dominating.
If you haven’t heard of Daniel Lynch yet, you are missing out. Since being drafted, Lynch has been arguably the best pitcher in the minor leagues, especially in Kansas City. He started his career in Rookie-Ball (Burlington) and was quickly promoted after three starts. He went 11.1 innings with a 1.59 ERA and 14 strikeouts compared to two walks.
Since being promoted to Lexington not much has changed. His ERA is 1.58 over nine starts and 40.0 innings. He also has 47 strikeouts compared to six walks.
That means, to start his career he has made 12 starts, going 51.1 innings, posting a 1.58 ERA and striking out 61 batters and walking just eight.
If those numbers aren’t impressive enough for you, he has been sitting at 95mph-96mph this year after being a low-90s pitcher coming into the season. This might be the number one guy to keep an eye on in the future.
Kris Bubic will round out this group of pitchers. Even though he is still in Rookie-Ball (Idaho Falls) he is still making good progress in his development.
Overall he has a 4.09 ERA over nine starts and 33.0 innings. Over that stretch, he has struck out 46 batters while walking just 15 as well. In fact, he has two games where he has struck out 10 batters.
If you were to eliminate his two games where he gave up four earned runs, his numbers are even more impressive. His ERA drops to a 2.16 over those seven games and 29.1 innings with 43 strikeouts and 10 walks.
He may be the pitcher in this draft that moves a bit slower than the ones mentioned above, but he is still showing a lot of promise in his first year.
2018 Trades and International Signings
These are players the Royals didn’t draft but will have to develop. Some are further out than others, but the promise is still there.
Yefri Del Rosario
While Yefri Del Rosario is an interesting case for the Royals, he still fits the mold. The 18-year-old originally signed as an international signing with the Atlanta Braves, but was released due to the Braves violating the rules for signing/paying international players. Therefore, the Royals were able to recruit Rosario to sign with the Royals because he became a “free agent”.
Since signing with the Royals, Rosario has been impressive. The 18-year-old has spent this year in Lexington and he has been very productive. Over his 15 starts and 78.0 innings, Rosario has a 3.19 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 29 walks. However, over his last 10 starts Rosario has a 1.74 ERA over 57.0 innings and 54 strikeouts and 17 walks.
Rosario is a young pitcher that seems to be making a name for himself and has high-upside. In fact, he has been compared to Yordano Ventura, who happened to be one of his favorite pitchers and part of the reason why he signed with the Royals.
Acquired in the Jon Jay trade, Elvis Luciano was the main piece brought back in the trade. Since joining the Royals, Luciano has spent the year at Rookie Level Burlington where he has posted a 4.66 ERA over 56.0 innings and 11 games.
Where the upside comes from though is over his last six starts. During that time he has a 3.16 ERA over 34.2 innings, with 34 strikeouts and 11 walks.
As the 18-year-old continues to develop, it is looking like the Royals might have another teenager who can become something more than a project pitcher/hopeful pitcher.
Another pitcher acquired in a trade this year that has upside is Trevor Oaks. Kansas City got him from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the three-team trade that sent Scott Alexander to the Dodgers and Joakim Soria to the Chicago White Sox.
Since coming to Kansas City, Oaks has spent the majority of his time in Triple-A Omaha. There he has 3.23 ERA over 22 starts and 128.1 innings. While he doesn’t have an impressive strikeout-to-walk differential like some of the other pitchers above have (70 strikeouts to 44 walks) he has been pretty consistent all year.
He spent a short time with the Royals club but was not very impressive during that time. Which is not the end of the world. His 7.24 ERA over 13.2 innings shows that while he is doing pretty well in Omaha, he still has some adjustments to make.
When the Royals break camp in 2019, I wouldn’t be surprised if Oaks gets a chance at being in the rotation as a 4th or 5th starter.
Carlos Hernandez is a young 21-year-old pitcher who has done a great job making adjustments and changes from one year to the next. In 2017, Hernandez finished the year in Burlington with a 5.49 ERA over 12 appearances (11 starts) with 62 strikeouts and 27 walks. He was promoted to Lexington this year and has posted a 3.29 ERA with 82 strikeouts and 23 walks over 15 starts.
He also lowered his WHIP from 1.46 in 2017 to 1.18 in 2018, and opponents went from hitting .266 against him in 2017 to hitting .236 against him in 2018. All around, he has made positive improvements. He just needs to continue that trend.
Some of these pitchers have more upside than others, and those individuals are projected to have a bigger impact in the Royals organization that some other starters are currently projected.
If these players can continue to improve at the rate they currently are, the notion of Dayton Moore not being able to draft a starting pitcher and the Royals not being able to develop a pitcher of their own should come to an end.
I understand that one year doesn’t erase a decade of misses. However, with the push for college-level pitching in this years draft, as well as the way they have produced so far, it might be time to change the narrative just a bit.
Obviously, these aren’t all the potential starting pitchers the Royals have within their system that have upside. However, with the numbers they have been putting up recently, these are essentially the standout candidates the Royals have.
Most aren’t projected to make their push until 2021/2022, which is also where execs have projected the Royals to be competitive again. Which means the wait-and-see game is going to have to happen. But it isn’t discouraging yet, which is always a plus.
What do you think Royals fans? Do the Royals seem to have starters they could develop and have pan out in the MLB? Let us know below!