KC Royals: Big questions loom as season set to start

(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /
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KC Royals, Brad Keller
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The KC Royals have questions about their starting rotation and their bullpen.

Kansas City entered the offseason searching for a fifth starter and found one relatively early. Three weeks before Christmas, former Royal Mike Minor agreed to a two-year contract to rejoin the team, and the Kansas City rotation seemed set with Brad Keller, Brady Singer, Danny Duffy, Kris Bubic and Minor.

Bubic’s spring changed things, however: opponents hit .389 against him, he gave up eight runs, 14 hits, and four walks in 7.1 innings, and the Royals sent him down last week. Fortunately, his absence won’t soon be felt because early schedule demands won’t require a fifth starter until at least mid-April.

Who will round out the rota when five starters are required? Will Bubic be ready to return, or will he still need work? Jakob Junis, with far more experience as a starter than reliever, improved this spring and could step in if Bubic can’t; Ervin Santana is a possibility if he makes the club. Time will tell.

How much might the Greg Holland-Wade Davis reunion help the KC Royals’ bullpen?

Greg Holland and Wade Davis are back together. For the first time since Kansas City non-tendered Holland after Tommy John surgery ended his 2015 season, the two veteran relievers, both of whom have excelled as closers, will pitch on the same club. While Holland making the Opening Day roster was a given when he re-upped with the Royals this winter following a successful 2020 comeback season (3-0, 1.91 ERA and six saves in 28 games), Davis’ chances were far less certain after two straight bad campaigns in Colorado. He pitched well this spring, though, and made the club.

Their good spring performances—Holland didn’t give up a run until his next-to-last game, and Davis didn’t until his last—bode well for the contributions they could make this season. Both righthanders were solid, Holland doesn’t appear to have missed a beat, and Davis seems to have recaptured his form and shows no lingering effects of the injuries that hampered him in 2018 and 2019. Look for a good year from Holland and a rebound from Davis.

What other questions face the Kansas City pitching staff?

Who will complete the starting rotation and how much better the Holland-Davis duo may make the bullpen aren’t the only pitching questions facing the KC Royals.

Will Mike Minor be the good addition the club needs him to be? He was a reliever in his only other KC season (2017), but then gave Texas 26 wins in two seasons as a starter before slipping to a combined 1-6 with the Rangers and A’s last year. Minor is a proven starting pitcher who can add considerable value…if he returns to form.

Can second year hurler Brady Singer pitch well enough to stay with the club or, like Bubic, will he require some fine-tuning in the minors? His 2020 (4-5, 4.06 ERA, including a 3-2, 2.73 September and a near no-hitter) was good for a rookie who’d never pitched above Double-A, but that lack of experience could haunt him in the full campaign 2021 is slated to be.

There are other questions, of course. Will the bullpen be as good, or even better, as it was last season? Will hot prospects Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch shake off their disappointing Cactus League performances and make their major league debuts? Will Danny Duffy, now in his final contract year, be moved by the trade deadline?

We’re about to find out.

Next. Keep an eye on this pitcher. dark

The regular season starts Thursday. That’s when the Royals will begin to answer all the questions about themselves.