The KC Royals sent two left-handed pitchers to the minor leagues last month. Will a baseball rule and the success of other Royals hurt them?
The KC Royals sent left-handed pitchers Gabe Speier and Foster Griffin packing from their major league spring training camp last month. Their demotions to Omaha, a brand new pitching rule and the Cactus League performances of other southpaws may have them wondering about their Royal futures.
Griffin was the first to go. The Royals optioned him March 10 after he gave up a run on two hits in a split-squad game against the A’s. Although he didn’t walk anyone and struck out four, the outing left him with a 7.94 ERA in four spring games. The White Sox tagged him for four runs and three hits in two innings in his only start.
Speier made it to March 19, a week after baseball suspended spring training, before being optioned. He’d last pitched March 8; his scoreless inning was his third straight scoreless appearance after surrendering two runs to San Diego in his first spring game.
Griffin’s demotion surprised no one. Only one of his four appearances was good, a scoreless inning against Colorado March 5, and his six-year minor league record–43-47 and 4.77 ERA–hardly fulfills the expectations the Royals had when they made him a first-round draft choice in 2014. His best year was 2017 when he started 4-2, 2.86 in High A ball, then went 11-5, 3.61 at AA. Twelve losses and a 5.13 ERA overshadowed his 10 AA wins in 2018; his 8-6 at Omaha last season was serviceable but he gave up almost six runs every nine innings.
Speier was 0-4 with a 5.63 ERA (his worst in the minors) at Omaha last season, but the KC Royals gave him a nine-game taste of the majors in September; a couple of subpar games accounted for a high 7.36 ERA, but he struck out 10 in 7.1 innings. His Cactus League performance this spring was far better–unlike Griffin, Speier suffered just one poor outing. The two runs he gave the Padres in a third of an inning in his first game skewed his short sample ERA to 5.40, a statistic tempered by his subsequent three straight scoreless efforts.
Good seasons at Omaha will improve the southpaws’ major league prospects, but other circumstances may impede them. A new baseball rule requiring relief pitchers to face at least three hitters (unless they retire the side before facing the third batter, are injured or become sick) could devalue left-handers like Griffin and Speier–it may render extinct lefties called upon to retire one left-handed batter in high-leverage situations. (The change in rule and role may hit Speier, a reliever, harder than a starter like Griffin, but Griffin isn’t guaranteed to remain a starter).
The stellar springs of two other KC Royals left-handers may also make it difficult for Speier and Griffin to get to Kauffman Stadium when baseball returns. Richard Lovelady appears fully recovered from injury and corrective surgery–he didn’t give up a run, struck out six and had an 0.47 WHIP in five games–and Randy Rosario matched Lovelady’s WHIP and posted a 1.42 ERA in six outings. The fact Rosario is out of options improves his chances to make the club.
Fellow lefty Tim Hill‘s horrific spring (24.55 ERA, 10 runs, 10 hits and four walks in 3.2 innings) may open the door for both Lovelady and Rosario to break camp with the Royals. Hill will likely return to the club if he’s sent down, leaving little or no room for Speier, or Griffin if the Royals try him as a reliever.
And further complicating Griffin’s chances are hot starting rotation prospects Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic and Jonathan Bowlan, all of whom are closing in on the big leagues.
Ultimately, Griffin and Speier won’t advance unless they pitch superbly…and overcome some obstacles.
When baseball resumes, Gabe Speier and Foster Griffin will start the season at Omaha. Earning a call to Kansas City will be difficult for both.