The KC Royals got lucky when they went on the clock in last summer’s draft and found Asa Lacy still available. They won’t rush him to the majors.
On June 27, 1973, when the KC Royals were just a few years old, Royals Stadium was brand new, and George Brett’s first big league at-bat was less than two months away, the team lost a heartbreaker in Oakland when Bert Campaneris scored from first on an infield error in the bottom of the ninth.
But that fluke ending wasn’t the night’s most interesting baseball occurrence. The Texas Rangers, a bad team well on their way to a last place finish, packed their new park with the best attraction they had. David Clyde, a barely 18 can’t-miss pitcher who dominated Texas prep baseball, and who just happened to be that year’s No.1 draft selection, made his debut. Not just his major league debut, but his debut.
The Rangers trotted Clyde out not even a month after he graduated from high school, and without the benefit of any professional experience. It was a gate draw stunt designed to draw fans that terrible Ranger baseball couldn’t.
Young Clyde didn’t disappoint. He filled the house as expected, started, gave Minnesota only one hit, and struck out eight in five innings to earn a big league win.
But that first game turned out to be one of few good ones in a promising career ultimately wasted. The Rangers’ idea was to revitalize their weak gate with a couple of Clyde starts before sending him to the minors for the seasoning he needed; instead, they kept the turnstiles turning by keeping him in the majors. He finished 4-8 with a 5.01 ERA, a predictable record for a green rookie pitching for a last place team.
But the worst, and saddest, part of Clyde’s story was yet to come. The Rangers, repeating the mistake of his rookie season, kept Clyde in Arlington in 1974 and he went 3-9. They finally, but too belatedly, sent him down for most of 1975 (he pitched one game for the Rangers) and all of 1976 and 1977; a 5-11 record over ’76 and ’77, together with arm troubles and surgery, foretold the end of his Ranger career. Texas traded him to Cleveland before the ’78 season; he was 11-15 for the Tribe in 1978-79, but tore his rotator cuff.
He never pitched in the majors again.
For Clyde, major league baseball was too much, too soon. The Rangers sped him there long before he was, or realistically could be, ready. The haste, mismanagement, inexperience, and arm injuries took their toll. What might have been can be imagined, but never known.
Fast forward to June 10, 2020, the first day of a shortened season’s similarly shortened amateur draft. Many thought the KC Royals would keep their line of pitching selections moving; the smart money and projections had Asa Lacy, probably the best hurler in the draft, gone before the Royals went on the clock with the fourth overall pick.
But something remarkable happened. Detroit used the first overall pick on an outfielder. Baltimore followed with a third baseman. Then Miami took a pitcher, but it wasn’t Lacy.
Moments later, Lacy was a Royal. The selection cost the club a reported $6.67 million, every penny of which will be worth it if Lacy lives up to expectations. They’re high—in three seasons at Texas A&M (including the shortened 2020 campaign), Lacy was 14-5 with a stingy 2.07 ERA, 1.013 WHIP and 13.3 SO9. He was off to a 3-0, 0.75 start in 2020 with 46 strikeouts in 24 innings and fanned 130 in 88.2 innings the season before.
There’s nothing weak in Lacy’s four-pitch repertoire (fastball, curve, change and slider) or his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame. He’s already mlb.com’s No. 2 Kansas City prospect, behind only Bobby Witt Jr. And although the pandemic ruined the minor league season, the Royals added Lacy to their 60-man Player Pool late in August. The move speaks volumes about the club’s view of their newest pitching gem.
But does it also signal a willingness to put Lacy on the fast track to the big leagues? Might he, like David Clyde, find himself making a major league start without any minor league experience?
No. Everything about the KC Royals suggests they won’t risk making Lacy the next Clyde. Save for a few ill-advised long-term contracts, these Royals are a cautious bunch. The organization typically doesn’t rush its talent, opting instead to nurture players until they’re ready for major league baseball’s demanding stage. Impulsiveness and gate gimmicks aren’t Royal traits.
Of course, some fans might think the club rushed Brady Singer and Kris Bubic this season. Singer, though, was a lock to make the club sometime in 2020 and proved he was ready with impressive spring and summer camps; Bubic also figured to see Kansas City at some point had the season been regular, but an early shortage of starters compelled the club to bring him in sooner.
Other fans probably thought 2020, a truncated season ripe for experimentation and taking chances, gave the Royals the ideal opportunity to give Lacy an early big league look. But this franchise doesn’t work that way. (Yes, the Royals put Adalberto Mondesi, then 20 and with no experience above Double A, on their 2015 World Series roster, but it was a justifiable move born of his glove, speed, and ability to switch hit; filling seats and curiosity had nothing to do with it).
Kansas City is more careful with prospects than the Rangers were with David Clyde. The Royals tend to develop young players gradually and advance them through the system deliberately and without undue haste. It’s a franchise well-known for protecting its investments.
Kansas City fans shouldn’t worry about Asa Lacy becoming the next David Clyde.
Expect the KC Royals to proceed carefully with Asa Lacy. They’ll do the right thing.