The Kansas City Royals appear to have a pitching prospect problem in that they have a lot of promising ones. Rito Lugo is the next stud to watch.
I really hope in just a couple of seasons we are saying the same thing about the Kansas City Royals hitting prospects but every time I turn around, there is another pitching prospect that is making a name for themselves. Signed as an international free agent in July 2018, Rito Lugo was on the fast track to see immediate playing time this season.
The 23-year old Venezuela native was originally assigned to the Dominican Summer League after being signed and posted a 1.15 ERA in 2 starts (4 appearances) while striking out a ridiculous 27 batters in 15.2 innings with just 4 walks. He was promoted to both the Arizona Royals rookie league and Idaho Falls Class-A short season in 2018, pitching a combined 31.1 innings with 45 strikeouts and walking just 5 batters.
This season, he experienced a breakout season with High-A Wilmington. He made 14 starts (31 appearances) for the Blue Rocks while tossing 100.0 innings on the dot and striking out 77 batters. Despite his promotion, his command has remained excellent walking just 22 batters and allowing an opponents’ batting average of 0.235 this year.
I think what stood out to me most were his two playoff appearances. I touched on it briefly in the Wilmington Champions run recap, but Lugo was electric in his two starts tossing 12.0 innings with 16 strikeouts, 1 earned run, 2 walks and an opponents’ batting average of 0.239.
Had he had enough innings to qualify, his 1.10 WHIP during the regular season would have finished second-best in that category. Lugo isn’t ranked within the team’s top 30 prospects nor does he land within the Top 100 prospects but it would not shock me one bit if he appeared in either list very soon.
Combined with the fact that he was able to skip Single-A altogether and his fantastic 2019 season, Lugo should expect a well-deserved promotion to Double-A to start next season but could find himself with Triple-A Omaha after a dozen starts. With several promising pitching prospects expected to make their debuts in 2021, the Royals could have a very good problem on their hands rather soon.
If the Royals (and Lugo) feel that he would be better served out of the bullpen, that could really accelerate his movement to the big leagues assuming he keeps pitching well in that role too. The Royals set the standard for what a dominant bullpen should look like in 2014 and 2015, and they have an opportunity for the next set of prospects to re-create that. Now it’s time for new owner John Sherman and Dayton Moore to focus on hitting prospects.