KC Royals: Daniel Lynch is now realizing his potential

(Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports) /

The KC Royals made lefty Daniel Lynch the 34th overall pick in the 2018 amateur draft. The selection—a comp pick acquired because Lorenzo Cain departed for free agency—proved to be one of several the organization used to grab pitchers in a clear effort to rebuild and redefine its pitching talent.

In fact, Kansas City, went on to draft nine pitchers in the first 10 rounds. That group has made history—the Royals last season were the first major league club to start five hurlers from the same draft class in one campaign. But as their career numbers through Thursday reflect, those five have seen their share of struggles:

  • Brady Singer: 205 IP, 1.39 WHIP, 4.51 ERA
  • Kris Bubic: 193 IP, 1.46 WHIP, 4.98 ERA
  • Daniel Lynch: 98 IP, 1.53 WHIP, 4.96 ERA
  • Jackson Kowar: 33.2 IP, 2.22 WHIP, 12.03 ERA
  • Jon Heasley: 23 IP, 1.43 WHIP, 4.70 ERA

One, however, is definitely making his mark this season. It’s Daniel Lynch, and he’ll be on the mound tonight when Kansas City opens a three-game weekend series with the American League Central-leading Twins.

Despite his rough start, the KC Royals should like Daniel Lynch’s outlook.

Of the five history-making pitchers, the arm with the highest ceiling might be Lynch’s. For example, in his comprehensive 2021 analysis of Lynch, Prospect Live’s Joe Drake wrote, “There’s frontline starter upside here should everything break perfectly, but more likely a solid mid to back of the rotation arm with a #5 floor.”

And in ranking Lynch its No. 3 KC prospect for 2020, MLB Pipeline said, “…the sheer quality of his stuff could make Lynch a mid-rotation starter in the big leagues, and there are some who believe he’ll ultimately surpass that projection.”

It’s clear that from an industry perspective, the ceiling for Lynch is high and he has the potential to develop even more. That ceiling—becoming a frontline starter for the Royals—has already shown itself in 2022. Lynch has improved his SO9 to 8.7 (up from 7.3 in 2021) and dropped his ERA substantially. His 3.30 ERA is far better than the 5.69 he finished with last year. Among KC starters, Lynch’s 0.6 bWAR trails only Zack Greinke (0.8) and Brad Keller (1.1).

In his April 12 season debut, Lynch pitched five innings and allowed six earned runs against the Cardinals. Since that rough start, he’s pitched 25 innings with a 2-1 record. His 1.80 ERA since April 20 is lower than both Keller’s and Greinke’s. The Royals are witnessing Lynch starting to become the front-line starter he can be.

Does Daniel Lynch’s success for the KC Royals reflect future success or luck?

As young arms develop and work through how their repertoires play against major league hitters, there are many ups and downs. It’s important not to overreact to small samples of performance. Take Brady Singer, for example.

After being optioned to Triple-A Omaha for critical development of his arsenal, Singer returned to Kansas City as the 27th man for Tuesday’s doubleheader against the White Sox and pitched masterfully. Less than two months removed from losing his rotation spot, Singer posted a career-high nine strikeouts and frequently used his work-in-progress changeup.

With Lynch, then, it’s important to remember that this season’s success has come over just six starts. Although the sample size is small, the Royals have seen this from Lynch before—in his rookie campaign, they demoted him to Omaha when he posted a 15.75 ERA over his first three career starts.

But he returned to the majors in late July and, in his first seven starts, pitched 40.1 innings with an ERA of just 2.23. He struck out 33 batters and walked just 17. This year’s version of Lynch is a continuation of that same excellent pitching.

That’s why the Royals should be increasingly optimistic he can develop into an ace. Compared to his 2021 totals, Lynch has seen a major improvement in several areas according to Baseball Savant. He’s striking out 22.5% of batters, a 4.8% increase versus last season, his first-pitch strike rate is 4% higher, and his chase rate is 6% better. And Lynch and the Royals can thank his fastball and changeup for much of his success. Although velocity and reliance on his fastball have changed little, hitters have swung and missed on it 10% more this year (22.7%) than last year (12.2%).

As for his changeup, last year the opposition hit .368 and slugged .658 against it, but this season’s numbers are much better—.233 and a measly .367. And also per Baseball Savant, his whiff rate (29.4%) ranks 38th among all pitchers who’ve faced a minimum of 25 batters and his .175 xBA ranks ninth.

Lynch’s continued development is welcome news for a franchise that has struggled to develop starting pitching for the better part of two decades.

Next. The Andrew Benintendi problem. dark

Daniel Lynch is well on his way to becoming not only an effective rotation contributor, but also a future ace of the Kansas City staff.