The KC Royals are likely to continue the youth movement and give young pitchers a chance to shine.
Between now and Opening Day, the Kings of Kauffman writers are analyzing how various Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Up today is starting pitcher Kris Bubic.
If there was any takeaway from the 2020 season, it was that the KC Royals were ready to embrace their young players, especially the pitchers. While they continued to use some established members of the organization, they weren’t afraid to throw in some prospects to make things interesting.
One prospect who made a big jump is Kris Bubic.
Bubic doesn’t have much of a history in professional baseball, at least, not yet. He was drafted by the Royals in the first round of the 2018 draft out of Stanford University and quickly got to work for Kansas City.
In 2018, he saw 38.0 innings of rookie-level baseball. He started 10 games and while he struck out 12.6 batters per 9, he also struggled with walks (4.5 BB/9). Things got better for the pitcher though in 2019.
Bubic moved up and saw both Single-A and Single-A+. He started 26 games and threw for 149.1 innings. He saw a big reduction in walks and just a small dip in strikeouts, and he held his ERA at 2.23.
Had there been a minor league season in 2020, many would likely assume he would’ve quickly found his way to Double-A, but the Royals had different plans. They were short on starting pitchers due to COVID issues and Bubic got the call to start at just 22 years old.
Making the transition from minor league baseball to the majors can be difficult for anyone, but it’s likely even harder for a young pitcher who had never pitched above Single-A+. Luckily, Bubic took his new role seriously and worked hard to produce for his team.
He finished the season with 10 starts and 50 innings. He struggled with walks again (4.0 BB/9) and saw a large dip in his strikeouts (8.8 SO/9) but still finished the season with decent success, seeing an ERA of 4.32.
While some of his numbers were not exactly what one wants to see out of a team ace, they were fine for a young pitcher trying to find his way in the major leagues. As the season progressed, Bubic got stronger and started to hold his own. While there were still times of struggle, he found his place in the rotation and has a chance to be there long term.
Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projection for Bubic’s 2021 season
The Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projection are almost in agreement on most things and see Bubic having another year similar to 2020. At Baseball Reference, Bubic is projected for 127.0 innings with an ERA of 4.32. They also have his SO/9 increasing to 9.4 and his BB/9 taking a slight dip down to 3.7.
FanGraphs sees a similar playing time with 118.0 innings and an ERA of 4.53. While they have his BB/9 dipping as well to 3.85, they also see his SO/9 going down slightly to 8.24.
What does 2021 hold for Kris Bubic in Kansas City?
Bubic has a chance of going two routes during the 2021 season. While it’s likely in either he will start in the majors, he could easily see struggles during the season and the Royals could decide to send him back down to get some work. While the minors may be slightly different this year as far as scheduling, he had minimal time before making his jump so some time away might do him good if needed.
On the other hand, and most likely, Bubic could continue to build on what he did last year the Royals think it best stick with him. Bubic will still have some things to work out and that’s to be expected. He is still very young and is learning to navigate the major leagues.
He was able to hold his own at times last year and the experience and knowledge he could gain, especially as a left-handed pitcher with two other left-handed pitching veterans in the rotation, is valuable.
Bubic could see some struggles at the start, but he seems to be one the Royals have in mind as a future rotation piece. Bubic will likely see his share of time on the mound and could find a permanent spot if he can tighten up the screws, limit his walks, and learn from the veterans on the team.
Kris Bubic still has some hurdles to jump, but the Royals won’t give up on him easily. He could see some time down if needed but expect to see him in Kansas City getting some experience.