Were the KC Royals close to promoting Jackson Kowar?

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

Recent news that Jonathan Bowlan, the KC Royals’ eighth best current prospect according to MLB Pipeline, was picked to vie for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, provided further proof the Royals hit the pitching jackpot in the 2018 amateur draft. Bowlan, a second-round pick, joined Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Austin Cox, Zach Haake, Tyler Gray and Jon Heasley as top-line hurlers included in the Royals’ impressive haul.

But Bowlan news then took a grim turn: as widely reported, the righthander will undergo Tommy John surgery sometime next week, ending his Olympic hopes and his 2021 season.

The spotlight returned to the 2018 pitching draft class Friday, though, when Internet rumblings began suggesting Kowar, then 4-0 with a 1.25 ERA at Triple-A Omaha, might make his major league debut against Minnesota today. (The Royals and Twins play the second game of their three-tilt weekend series at 1:10 p.m. CDT).

Those suggestions quickly increased in number and frequency and seemed something more than wishful chatter. The clues were there, readily available to anyone who checked the myriad of baseball websites that accurately identify announced, and probable, big league and minor league pitching matchups.

The clues were clues not for what they revealed, but instead for what they didn’t.

No major site provided any information about Kansas City’s starter other than “TBD,” the universal indication that the choice hadn’t been officially announced, or made, by the club, but was “To Be Determined.” In and of itself, that isn’t particularly suggestive of anything except a team hasn’t decided, or for some reason isn’t yet telling, who’ll start.

But there was more. Friday was, if Omaha followed form, to be Kowar’s turn in the rotation, meaning he’d pitch that evening against Indianapolis; if that schedule held, he certainly couldn’t pitch today against the Twins. But even late Friday afternoon, not long before the Storm Chasers’ scheduled 7:05 p.m. CDT start, those “probable pitcher” websites listed Omaha’s starter as…”TBD.”

Could it be the Royals were seriously considering Kowar for promotion, or he was already headed for Minnesota to join them? Both ideas made sense. KC needed a starter, and its inconsistent and sometimes rocky rotation, coupled with Kowar’s stellar first few starts, had previously fueled wide speculation he’d soon join Singer, Bubic and Lynch as 2018 draftees who’ve made it to the majors. Perhaps the club was waiting to make the announcement, and the Storm Chasers weren’t ready to identify their choice to start in Kowar’s place because they hadn’t yet made it.

Put it all together and the proverbial “two and two” pointed to the distinct possibility that Kowar was getting his call to the big leagues.

Despite the speculation, Jackson Kowar isn’t joining the KC Royals…yet.

But as promising as things seemed, especially to those committed to the notion Kowar belongs in the KC Royals’ rotation now, the speculation proved to be just that. Kowar made his Friday start for Omaha and improved his already perfect record to 5-0 with five scoreless innings against Indianapolis.

And after the Royals beat the Twins 8-3 Friday night, their manager revealed who’ll start for him this afternoon:

So, what appeared to be sizing up as an exciting Saturday rookie debut will instead be a spot start for a seasoned veteran whose 2.20 ERA in eight steady appearances this season warrants the assignment.

It probably won’t be long, though, before the Royals can no longer resist the temptation Kowar presents. Other than a few spring training appearances this year and last, he’s never pitched to major league batters, and hadn’t faced minor leaguers above High-A ball before reporting to Omaha this season. That makes his domination of Triple-A hitters even more remarkable—not only is he 5-0 with a stingy 1.01 ERA, he’s also holding opposing hitters to a .183 average and 0.97 WHIP, and has 36 strikeouts in 26.2 innings.

So, were the Royals close to promoting Kowar Friday? The signs suggest so. Next time, the speculation may become fact.

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The KC Royals may have been close to calling up Jackson Kowar Friday. They didn’t, but his day is coming.