Pitching in the major leagues was never supposed to be like it's been for KC Royals hurler Jackson Kowar.
Kowar, remember, was a high-profile part of the stable full of thoroughbred pitching prospects the Royals snagged in the 2018 amateur draft. The Royals took him with the 33rd overall pick (an extra first-round selection they received as compensation for Milwaukee signing former Royal Lorenzo Cain as a free agent); KC chose him after Brady Singer but before Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, Jonathan Bowlan, Austin Cox, Zach Haake, and Jonathan Heasley.
Kowar, Singer, Lynch, Bubic and Heasley have all made it to the big leagues. Kowar, however, has had the roughest ride, a disturbingly bad 16-game flop no one saw coming before he made his Royal debut in 2021.
The major leagues haven't been kind to KC Royals pitcher Jackson Kowar.
To understand Kowar's excellent record before the Royals summoned him to The Show is to understand the depth of his fall after he arrived. Having signed after the 2018 draft, he went directly to Class A Lexington and pitched nine times with an acceptable 3.42 ERA over 26.1 innings. Liking what they saw, the Royals promoted him to High-A Wilmington, then to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, in 2019, and he went a combined 7-10, 3.52.
The pandemic-forced cancellation of the 2020 minor league season wasn't a total loss for Kowar: Kansas City picked him for its 60-man Player Pool and he spent the summer working with other top prospects at the organization's Alternate Training Site.
Then came 2021. Kowar started the season at Triple-A Omaha; that he was ready for the jump to the minors' highest level became apparent when, after just six starts, he stood 5-0 with an 0.85 ERA, 0.40 WHIP, .063 OBA, and 41 strikeouts in 31.2 innings. Seeing what they had hoped and needed to see, the Royals called him up June 7 and he started that night against the Los Angeles Angels.
His first major league effort was brutally ugly. Kowar threw three wild pitches, gave up three hits, and walked two, and LA tagged him for four runs before manager Mike Matheny put a merciful end to his rookie's evening with two outs in the first.
Matheny started Kowar twice more, but the four runs he gave the A's in 1.1 innings and the two he coughed up to Boston in three forced Kowar back to Omaha. He returned to Kansas City in September but went 0-4, 9.95 (opponents battered him for six runs once and five runs four times) and finished the year 0-6, 11.27.
Last season also turned out badly. Matheny pitched Kowar seven times, all out of the bullpen, and the righthander gave up 17 runs in 15.2 innings (9.77 ERA) and walked 11 (6.32 BB/9). Not surprisingly, he spent most of the season at Omaha, but with substandard results: he was 4-10, 6.16 in 20 starts and issued 43 walks in 83.1 innings (4.64 BB/9).
Now, new Kansas City pitching coach Brian Sweeney and assistant Zach Bove must set about determining what happened to Kowar after he reached the majors. Curing Kowar would do much to improve a Kansas City pitching staff that needs improvement in the worst way. Expect Sweeney and Bove to search hard for the cause (or causes) of Kowar's serious command and control problems, and any other issues they suspect might exist.
Don't be surprised if they find those causes and develop cures for whatever else might ail him. But if they don't, or they do and Kowar for some reason can't exploit the fixes those finds trigger, his days with the Royals will probably come to an end by the time this season is over.
Let's hope Jackson Kowar finds his way back to good pitching form this year.