Ronald Bolanos pitched twice for the KC Royals in 2020. What does 2021 hold?
Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s KC Royals Projections series for 2021. Between now and Opening Day, our writers are analyzing how various Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Up today is pitcher Ronald Bolanos.
Even the few KC Royals fans who knew of pitcher Ronald Bolanos must have been surprised when he suddenly started two games for the club last summer. Those who’d never heard of him had to wonder how and why he’d become a Royal.
The easy answer is that Kansas City acquired Bolanos in the summer camp trade that sent struggling Tim Hill to San Diego in exchange for Franchy Cordero, who was clearly KC’s primary target.
But what injected Bolanos into the lineup so quickly—he was the first to the mound in the Royals’ third game of the season—was the state of the rotation. Absent from the active roster were starters Brad Keller and Jakob Junis, both of whom tested positive for COVID-19, and Kansas City needed someone to fill in. So it was that the Royals called Bolanos up from their alternate training site the day before the campaign started.
The righthander, whose 2019 debut with San Diego wasn’t pretty (in five games, he was 0-2 with a 5.95 ERA and walked 12 in 19.2 innings) didn’t distinguish himself in his first Royal appearance. “Opening” against Cleveland, he hit a batter and gave up two unearned runs in two innings before Jorge Lopez, the second of eight pitchers the Royals employed in a lopsided 9-2 loss, took over to begin the third.
Bolanos’ next “opening” quickly turned ugly. He allowed the White Sox four runs in the first and didn’t survive the second; all told, he gave up gave up five runs on five hits in 1.2 innings, and returned to the alternate site the next day.
That Bolanos struggled isn’t surprising. Experience wasn’t on his side: other than those five appearances with the Padres in 2019, he hadn’t pitched above Double A. He owns a 24-18, 4.38 record in three minor league seasons, and went 13-7, 3.66 across stops in High A and Double A in 2019. With respective major league and minor league walk rates (BB/9) of 5.8 and 3.9, control has been an issue for Bolanos.
He throws mid-90s four-seamers and sinkers and mixes in a change and slider. How will he, and those pitches, fare in 2021?
Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projections for Bolanos’ KC Royals season
Baseball Reference and FanGraphs think Bolanos will have a fairly pedestrian 2021. Baseball Reference foresees him finishing with a 3-5, 4.81 record in 58 innings, with 9.2 strikeouts and 3.9 walks per nine innings. FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) sees him pitching 30 innings and going 2-2, 5.00 with a 4.64 BB/9 and 7.93 SO/9.
Either way, these projections suggest control will still nag Bolanos and he’ll give up too many runs.
What kind of season will Bolanos actually have for the KC Royals in 2021?
For Ronald Bolanos, predicting where he’ll pitch is more relevant than how he might pitch in the major leagues. The Royals have no reason to rush him back to Kansas City—his first two trips to The Show prove he needs more seasoning; at 24, he has time to get it. Too, the major league rotation is set and other more talented hurlers, such as Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar, are ahead of him.
Bolanos’ destination should be Triple A, where he can pitch for the first time and improve his control. That’s why Omaha is his best fit for 2021. Big league projections can wait another year.
Ronald Bolanos needs to experience Triple A ball. He’ll benefit more from a season there than one with the parent Royals.