A third shot at the major leagues is what the KC Royals gave Jackson Kowar when spring training ended. It seemed a strange choice given the mediocre rookie record he posted last season—0-6 with an 11.27 ERA, 5.9 BB9 and 2.077 WHIP—and the four runs he surrendered in seven Cactus League innings this spring.
But Kowar’s status as one of several potential-packed pitchers Kansas City swept up in the 2018 amateur draft means he’ll benefit from a longer leash than less talented hurlers; the club will tolerate his struggles more than it will others’.
But patience, even with the Royals, is a virtue not without limits, and that Kowar occupied shaky ground from the start was confirmed immediately following his first 2022 appearance. Summoned by Manager Mike Matheny to start the second inning of KC’s third game, and with his club already behind 6-0 in what would become an embarrassing 17-3 loss to Cleveland, Kowar gave up seven runs and 11 hits and found himself back in the minors the next day.
Fortunately, things have since changed.
KC Royals prospect Jackson Kowar appears to be back on the pitching beam.
Kowar’s return to Omaha—his second trip back since making an ugly 0-2, 18.00 ERA, three-game big league debut last June that included an awful first game—gave him the opportunity to rediscover the form that moved the Royals to bring him to the majors in the first place. He was 5-0, 0.85 when Kansas City promoted him last June.
But his first 2022 Storm Chasers start bore no resemblance to how he pitched for them last spring. Instead, he surrendered three runs in 2.2 innings against Louisville. Then he gave up six runs (five earned) in 5.2 frames in his next start, eight in four innings the next time out, seven (four earned) and six hits in just 3.1 innings in his fourth start, and three in 4.2 frames in his fifth.
It was then that Kowar reclaimed what he’d been missing. He struck out six and walked only one in six scoreless innings May 14. Five days later he again fanned six and walked one in a two-run, five-inning effort, then struck out nine in five scoreless innings five days ago. His ERA is 1.12 across those three contests.
Recalling Jackson Kowar is a risk the troubled KC Royals should take.
Do the collective results of his last three starts prove Kowar is ready for another chance with Kansas City? Perhaps not—the club might want him to get another few minor league starts—but at this point the typically risk-averse Royals, who after Monday’s loss to Cleveland are tied with the Reds for baseball’s worst record, ought to roll the dice.
This is, after all, a team short on reliable starters. With Zack Greinke on the Injured List after a pair of uncharacteristically shaky starts, Brad Keller becoming increasingly inconsistent and Carlos Hernández back in the minors, only Daniel Lynch and, more recently, Brady Singer and Jon Heasley, are pitching reasonably well.
It was with Singer that the Royals most recently took a similar risk—relegated to Omaha in April to stretch back out as a starter and work on a third pitch, he made it back to Kansas City and has improved his 2022 big league record to 2-0, 1.37.
And don’t forget Lynch who, like Kowar, started terribly last year and went back to Triple-A for remedial work, then returned to KC later in the season. Unlike Kowar, however, he pitched well enough to stick and is now a key part of the major league rotation.
Can the same thing happen with Kowar? Only trying it will tell. And considering the current state of the Royals, for whom contention must wait another season, they have nothing to lose. (He’s on track to start tonight against Indianapolis, so KC could wait until after that to call him up).
The Royals should try Jackson Kowar again.