The KC Royals appeared to hit the pitching motherlode when they stormed into the 2018 amateur draft and walked away with Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Jon Heasley. They weren’t the only talented hurlers the club snagged in that draft, but they’re the five who’ve made it to the majors.
As a unit, however, they haven’t met expectations. Entering this season, Singer, widely considered the best of the bunch, was 9-15 with a 4.62 ERA. Bubic stood 7-13, 4.40. Lynch started miserably last season but, after some work in the minors, returned to the Royals and pitched fairly well. Heasley probably pitched better than his 1-1, 4.91 three-game record suggests but has returned to Triple-A Omaha.
Kowar has struggled more than the others—he finished last season 0-6 with an astronomical 11.27 ERA.
These pitchers’ disappointments outnumber their highlights, but have perhaps never been more profound than they were against Cleveland Sunday in the third of the clubs’ four-game, season-opening series. After Zack Greinke, Brad Keller and the bullpen (and some timely hits) beat the Guardians in the first two contests, Cleveland battered four of the five KC pitchers they forced manager Mike Matheny to use in pummeling Kansas City 17-3.
Three of the pitchers Cleveland punished were Bubic, Kowar and Singer. The other was new reliever Taylor Clarke.
Bubic, Matheny’s choice to start and secure a series win, suffered immediately. He couldn’t get ahead of Cleveland’s hitters and wasn’t effective in the zone, glaring faults that led Matheny to cut him off at 29 pitches (only 14 were strikes) before the first inning was even over. Bubic gave way to Clarke with two outs, the bases loaded, and Cleveland ahead 2-0.
The Guardians—Oscar Mercado specifically—showed Clarke no mercy. Mercado parked Clarke’s full-count pitch in the left field bullpen for a grand slam and 6-0 Cleveland lead. Three of the four runs were charged to Bubic, giving him a miniscule sample size 67.50 ERA.
Kowar, starting this season in the pen instead of the rotation from which he made eight of his nine 2021 appearances, replaced Clarke to start the second. But he handed the Guardians six more runs, 11 more hits, and a 12-2 lead before Matheny decided enough was enough and brought in Gabe Speier with one out in the fifth. Speier surrendered a run-scoring single with the run going against Kowar’s line for an unsightly seven in all.
Singer replaced Speier to start the seventh and promptly gave up three runs on a homer, three singles and a hit batter. He surrendered another run in the eighth and, mercifully, held the Guardians scoreless in the ninth.
Cleveland, then, tagged Bubic, Kowar and Singer for 16 runs and 20 hits in seven innings. They won’t get the chance to try and make it worse against Lynch because Carlos Hernández is scheduled to pitch for KC when the clubs finish this series at 1:10 p.m. today.
(The Kansas City offense isn’t without blame for Sunday’s loss: the Royals went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and key hitters Salvador Perez, Whit Merrifield, Andrew Benintendi and Adalberto Mondesi all went hitless).
Is it too early for the KC Royals to be concerned about their 2018 draftees?
To write Sunday’s debacle off as “one of those things” or “one of those days” will tempt some, if not many. After all, it was the first time out for Bubic, Kowar and Singer, and they had fewer Cactus League pitching opportunities than usual.
But these three 2018 pitching plums have had too many bad days before; Sunday seemed worse than usual. That the Royals misjudged them all four years ago is so improbable as to be all but impossible.
Something, however, is terribly wrong. Inevitably, pitching coach Cal Eldred will be the lightning rod, the man many fans will blame and berate for his hurlers’ shortcomings, flaws and failures to fulfill the potential the club saw in them in 2018. Time will tell whether it’s right to ascribe their difficulties to Eldred.
Sunday’s loss was a disaster. What, if anything, can be done to correct the woes of Brady Singer, Kris Bubic and Jackson Kowar remains to be seen.