The KC Royals need a fifth starter. A short 2020 season gives them the chance to try a top pitching prospect in the spot.
For the KC Royals, the 2020 major league season, assuming COVID-19 allows it to be started, played, and concluded, will be historically short and marked by one-campaign, pandemic related changes.
Health and safety protocols include regular testing and screening, dugout masks, bans on spitting, sunflower seeds and the like, and limitations on celebratory physical contact. Each extra inning will start with a runner at second to speed up games and minimize lengthy contests.
Like all other clubs, the KC Royals will start with a 30-man active roster and pare it down in steps to 26 after roughly a month. Active roster occupants count against the 60-man “player pools” which will include the clubs’ 40-man rosters plus 20 additional players eligible in 2020. In the absence of minor league play, teams might stock their pools with some top prospects. The Royals’ list of 60 players initially eligible for 2020 baseball is due Sunday.
What won’t change this season, at least on paper, is the Royals’ contention status. The club simply isn’t ready to make a run at the playoffs (although anything might happen in a 60-game span). The abbreviated season gives KC the opportunity to take chances and experiment; plagued with uncertainty, the fifth rotation spot remained unclaimed when spring training stopped March 12 and is fertile ground for risk-taking.
One Royal risk worth taking is Brady Singer, the club’s first pick in the 2018 draft and a pitcher many predicted would debut sometime this season
Now seems like a good time to throw Singer into a rotation mix that includes likely locks Danny Duffy, Brad Keller, Jakob Junis, and Mike Montgomery. Coming off a miserable 2019, it’s not an ideal lot (especially Montgomery, whose long-term chances to remain in the Royals’ rotation aren’t good) so rolling the dice with Singer, who may have more talent than any in the group, makes some sense.
Only his inexperience makes such a move questionable. A groin issue delayed his professional start until last season, so he didn’t see any post-draft 2018 action after signing for a reported $4.25 million. He didn’t throw his first minor league pitch until April 6, 2019, when he started for KC’s Wilmington High A club but took a loss after pitching 5.1 innings and giving up a pair of runs.
The rest of his Wilmington time was better, though–he went 5-2 with a 1.87 ERA and averaged over eight strikeouts and only two walks per nine innings before moving up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. There, he was 7-3 with a 3.47 ERA, won his last four starts and had a 1.96 ERA in his last nine.
Although he has only a season in the pros, the Royals gave Singer two spring training starts this year. He struggled a bit–he surrendered three runs in 5.2 innings, walked four and had a 1.941 WHIP (although he struck out six). He’ll undoubtedly get more chances when Spring Training 2.0 opens in Kansas City next week.
Whether he performs well in the three weeks set aside to complete spring training may not be the point. Singer’s talent and potential are virtually unchallenged–mlb.com ranks him as the Royals’ top pitching prospect (and second-best overall prospect behind only Bobby Witt Jr.) and his intense competitiveness is a hallmark. Although his changeup needs work, he has an excellent slider he mixes effectively with a sinker. And after his stellar High A stint and Double A finish last season, this shortened campaign might be a good time to put him to the big league test.
The 6-5, 210-pound right-hander has shown just enough, and maybe more, to justify trying him in the fifth slot when the season opens in late July. Jorge Lopez is another candidate for the job, but he hasn’t established himself yet as a starter or reliever, so he may be best suited to be a swingman in a season where such a role will be important. And Singer will, sooner or later, be part of the rotation. Because he won’t be able to throw in the minors this year and has too much talent to sit idle, the KC Royals might as well make it sooner.
The baseball season starts in a month. Brady Singer should be pitching for the KC Royals.