KC Royals Prospects: Frank Mozzicato struggles after promotion

The Royals' #5 prospect has some things to learn in High-A.

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KC Royals prospect Frank Mozzicato started the season in a strikeout battle with the Low-A Columbia Fireflies. His progress there earned a promotion to the High-A Quad Cities River Bandits. The move to the Midwest has been anything but smooth for Kansas City's fifth-best prospect though.

KC Royals prospect Frank Mozzicato finds High-A jump challenging.

Mozzicato has had five starts for the River Bandits since July 6. His 10.19 K/9 reflects a strikeout rate that propelled him to High-A in the first place, but other factors in those starts created his 0-3 record and 11.72 ERA. He has 18 walks in 17 2/3 innings pitched, giving up 23 hits and four home runs in that span. Now, there is a steep learning curve whenever a player moves up in the farm system but Mozzicato's curve has been absolutely brutal. Royals director of pitching performance Paul Gibson has a tempered response to the 2021 first-round pick's struggles in the Aug. 6 Royals Beat newsletter.

“We were expecting peaks and valleys, like any player but especially because [he's] 20 years old,” Gibson said. “He’s losing that little bit of an edge that he had like any teenager would. But he’s fine. We’re getting to an innings workload that he’s never seen before, so we’ve got to be careful there.”

MLB.com's Anne Rogers pointed out that Mozzicato "hasn’t been the same since a collision during batting practice in early June", and that is factual. The Fireflies placed Mozzicato on the seven-day IL on June 3 and did not reactivate him until June 15. Let's split his season, pre- and post-injury.

Pre-injury (April 11 - June 1): 46 1/3 IP, 2.14 ERA, 64% strikes, 14.47 K/9, 4.89 BB/9

Post-injury (June 15, August 6): 27 2/3 IP, 10.08 ERA, 57% strikes, 10.3 K/9, 8.8 BB/9

So, maybe that is the root of Mozzicato's problems after all. Only people in the Royals organization know how much that incident impacted Mozzicato on the mound, both physically and mentally.

Translating Mozzicato's struggles to him being a bust is an unfair jump, but not a far one. The lefty had several highs in Columbia, including setting the franchise record with 174 Ks in 31 appearances and striking out 13 in one game this season. But, two big factors cast doubt on his ceiling in the Royals system.

First, his fastball velocity leaves much to be desired. The pitch's breaking action passes the eye test, but more developed batters abuse the offering that stays in the 88-92 MPH range. I assumed the velocity would jump after the 2022 season, but that has not been the case. FanGraphs points to an "underdeveloped" lower half of his body as a potential cause for the issue. He has the frame, but growing into that more after the 2023 season will be key.

Also, Mozzicato's control has not improved much from his first professional season. He posted a 5.43 BB/9 in Low-A, with that jumping to 9.17 following his promotion. The slow fastball requires him to stay on the edges, and that is a small margin of error that Mozzicato cannot handle. The curveball is one of the best in all of minor league baseball, but he cannot deploy that after getting behind in counts. His lack of a trusty third pitch could be exacerbating this problem, but a 6.46 career BB/9 is a major cause for concern.

Mozzicato still has MLB upside and time to develop that upside. Hopefully, this sour stretch is just a trial by fire in a new competitive level of baseball. If this is the norm for Mozzicato throughout the remaining season, that is a major cause for concern/

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