Expectations were naturally high for rookie Jackson Kowar when he arrived in Los Angeles last June to pitch for the KC Royals. A member of the widely-heralded collection of pitching talent the club acquired via the 2018 amateur draft, Kowar was 5-0 with an 0.85 ERA at Triple-A Omaha when summoned to the majors for the first time.
Unfortunately, his debut, a start on the road against the Angels, didn’t last long and left much to be desired.
The Angels knocked Kowar out before the first inning even ended—he gave up four runs on three hits and a pair of walks and threw three wild pitches before manager Mike Matheny wisely pulled the plug on him with two outs.
His ruined introduction foretold more trouble. Oakland battered him for four runs in 1.1 innings his next time out and, a week later, the Red Sox put an end to his first trip to the majors when they scored twice against him in three innings. The Royals sent him back to Omaha
Undeterred by his three June performances, the club recalled Kowar in September. But he succeeded in only one of six starts down the stretch, a six-inning, six-strikeout, two-run outing against Cleveland Sept. 1, then went 0-4 with a 12.10 ERA and failed to surrender less than five runs in each of his final five outings. He finished 0-6, 11.27.
The Royals don’t give up easily on players and won’t walk away from Kowar unless his difficulties, especially with control (he had a 5.9 BB9 in 2021), become prolonged and profound.
Will he progress this season?
How Baseball Reference and FanGraphs project Jackson Kowar for the KC Royals.
How will Jackson Kowar actually perform for the KC Royals this season?
Kowar appears to be making strides this spring—after working two scoreless innings against San Francisco Wednesday, he has five strikeouts and a 6.00 ERA in six Cactus League innings. That ERA, though, is skewed by the three runs he allowed Texas in two innings a week ago; other than that contest, he’s surrendered one run in four frames.
Kowar’s control is also better. He walked 20 in 30.1 innings (5.9 BB9) last season, but only two so far in six spring game innings.
Whether Kowar’s short-term improvement carries over to the regular season will be known soon enough. Especially considering the two extra players the Royals will have through May 1, Kowar is all but a lock to make the Opening Day roster.
But will he break into a rotation expected to include Zack Greinke, Brad Keller, Brady Singer and Kris Bubic? Because a compressed spring training didn’t allow the Royals as much time as usual to stretch out their starters, Kowar will probably get a start or two in April, and may compete with Daniel Lynch for the fifth spot in the rota. Expect Matheny to also use Kowar out of the bullpen.
However Matheny chooses to deploy him this season, Kowar’s numbers should be better. Up to 8-10 wins if he’s on track and starts regularly isn’t out of the question, and don’t look for him to give up as many runs.
Expect Jackson Kowar to be better this season.