While KC Royals lose again, top farm clubs win impressively

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals lost again Tuesday. Fortunately, their top two farm clubs didn’t.

The KC Royals lost their third straight game Tuesday night and, for the second night in a row, their increasingly suspect bullpen had much to do with the loss. This time, the pen was at work when Cleveland tied the game and later scored four runs to top the Royals 7-3 and drop them into a first place tie with Chicago.

Fortunately, Kansas City’s top two farm teams benefitted from better pitching and won the first games they’ve played since 2019.

But first things first—the big club’s bullpen simply failed. Greg Holland inherited a bases loaded jam from Mike Minor in the sixth, and although a Nicky Lopez error cut KC’s 3-0 lead to one, it let Holland off only part of the hook: he immediately surrendered a game-tying hit. The pen collapsed in the eighth when Josh Staumont and Tyler Zuber combined to give Cleveland the additional run it needed, plus three more.

Things went much better at Triple-A Omaha.

Working his first regular season game above Double-A, Jackson Kowar, the Royals’ No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, started against St. Paul and struck out nine in 5.1 scoreless innings. He surrendered only two singles before giving way to Jake Kalish in the sixth. Kowar, who’d surprise no one by making it to the majors this season, earned the win in the Storm Chasers’ 8-2 victory.

Although Kalish gave up two runs in his 2.2 innings, Andres Sotillet—like Kowar, pitching for the first time ever at Triple-A—struck out two in his scoreless frame to close out the game.

And the Storm Chasers’ bats were just as good as their pitching. Edward Olivares, who spent most of last September in Kansas City, tripled, homered, and drove in three runs in his first two at-bats to provide everything Omaha needed. Ryan McBroom, Anderson Miller and Gabriel Cancel added solo homers and Kelvin Gutierrez had a double and single.

Top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. quiet in Naturals’ Opening Night victory.

If there’s a team fans follow this season more to track one player’s exploits than the club’s as a whole, it’s the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

That’s because Bobby Witt Jr., Pipeline’s No. 1 Royals’ prospect and seventh on its Top 100 list, and whose eventual promotion to the big leagues is the most anticipated Kansas City baseball event since the 2014 and 2015 World Series trips, is starting the season with the Naturals as the most closely watched player in the organization.

All eyes are on him, but those eyes didn’t see much from Witt’s bat Tuesday night. The Naturals beat the Arkansas Travelers 7-4, but Witt went 0-for-5, struck out twice, and left a pair of runners on base. He struck out swinging in the first, took a called third strike in the third, grounded out in the fifth, flied out two innings later, and popped out to the catcher in the eighth.

Catcher MJ Melendez, on the other hand, blasted a pair of two-run homers and drove in four runs. And two players who before last season’s canceled campaign appeared to be on the verge of a battle for a first base slot in the KC system, chipped in—rejuvenated first-sacker Nick Pratto, bolstered by a .345/.406/.862, four home run spring that restored him to hot prospect status after an atrocious .191 season at High-A Wilmington two years ago, hit a solo homer, and Travis Jones, who started in right Tuesday night, was 2-for-3.

Starter Jon Heasley and relievers Andres Nunez, Josh Dye and Collin Snyder combined for 14 strikeouts and held the Travelers to three earned runs, with Nunez earning the win and Snider a save.

The KC Royals’ new High-A club squanders Angel Zerpa’s excellent start.

Only one of the KC Royals’ two new farm clubs played Monday night—after tying the game in the eighth, Quad Cities lost to South Bend 7-4, while weather postponed Columbia’s contest with Augusta.

The River Bandits’ loss must hurt as much as their parent club’s defeat in Kansas City. Although they never led, starter Angel Zerpa, Pipeline’s No. 29 KC prospect, kept them in the game with the kind of pitching the Royals signed him in 2016 to deliver—he struck out seven, walked only one, scattered three hits and surrendered a lone run in five innings.

But like their big league bullpen counterparts, the Bandit relievers gave up too many runs—six to be precise, including three in the bottom of the eighth after Quad Cities tied the game in its half of the frame. Adam Lukas, a 12th round 2019 KC draft choice making his first professional appearance, surrendered all the eighth inning runs on two hits and two walks, and two errors on Bandit pick off plays (one by Lukas and another by catcher William Hancock) didn’t help.

First baseman Vinnie Pasquantino homered and left fielder Tyler Gentry singled twice for Quad Cities.

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The KC Royals’ minor league teams are back in action. While the big club lost Tuesday night, two of the farm clubs won.