The Royals Want All the College Pitchers

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the 2018 MLB Draft will go down as one of the most pivotal in the history of the Kansas City Royals, one way or the other. The Royals farm system has been continuously ranked as one of the worst in baseball by almost every publication around. With Kansas City getting compensation picks this year from the free agent losses of Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, this year’s draft was the perfect time to re-stock the farm and begin the slow climb back up to contender. If their goal was to make a big splash, then they have succeeded.

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Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals first pick was at #18 and their pick was Baseball America’s College Player of the Year Brady Singer from Florida. Most had Singer going in the top five of the draft and some felt the lowest he would drop would be around #10. So what did Kansas City get with their top pick? Here is part of the scouting report from MinorLeagueBall.com:

Singer is listed at 6-5, 210 (he was 180 in high school), born August 4th, 1996. His fastball is his best pitch, up to 95-96 with boring action in on right-handed hitters when things are going well. He can also show a plus slider and has made good strides with his change-up this spring; a recent in-person report from Burke Granger at 2080 Baseball describes the change with “above average deception and tumble, parachuting out of the zone.” One of the few complaints about Singer in 2017 was the need for a better change-up and it sounds like things are going well in that department.

So why did he drop to #18? I’m sure sign-ability came into play, but there were also some concerns by some scouts when it came to Singer:

Despite the good statistics, several observers have noted Singer’s harder pitches, especially the fastball, flattening out at times this year. This is traced to changes in his arm angle although the exact cause/effect chain is a bit unclear from a distance.

His delivery has always been somewhat unusual with a three-quarters approach and some whippy action. His arm angle and release point looked higher at times this year and this has been enough to lower his projection in the eyes of some very respected observers.

So there are a few worries about Singer, but overall he has a plus arm that is already pretty far along in his development. What this means is as long as things go according to plan, Singer could be in the majors by the end of 2019. This was a great pick for the Royals and one that could pay off sooner rather than later.

2017 College World Series: TCU defeats Florida 9-2
Credit: Steve Cheng

With the 33rd pick in the draft, the Royals would draft Singer’s teammate at Florida, Jackson Kowar. Kowar is an interesting pick, as evidenced by the reports on him this season:

As a prep his fastball was generally 88-92 with higher peaks. In college that’s up to 92-95 with peaks as high as 97-98.

His best secondary pitch is his change-up, drawing plus ratings. Development of his breaking ball has been key this spring and while it is sharper and more consistent than in 2017, it is still his third pitch behind the fastball and change. Further refinement of the breaking stuff and general sharpening of his command will obviously be the first items on his agenda as a pro.

So while Kowar isn’t as far along as Singer, there are a few scouts that preferred him to Singer:

When Kowar is at his best he shows three plus pitches. He’s not as close to being a finished product as Brady Singer but in some ways Kowar is a more conventional prospect than his teammate and some scouts like Kowar better.

Kowar might be the more interesting pick to watch out of the two Florida boys, and I like the idea of the two teammates getting to move through the Royals system together.

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At #34, Kansas City would stay in the college ranks and draft left-handed pitcher Daniel Lynch from Virginia. Here is an assessment of Lynch earlier in the year:

A lean and narrow 6’4’’, Lynch won’t overpower hitters and needs to hit spots to have success. He throws from a clean abbreviated windup, getting consistent extension over his front half with little overall effort in his mechanics. He repeats well, able to stay around the zone with a four-pitch mix. The fastball has fringy velocity, sitting right around 90 mph while ranging anywhere from 88-to-93 mph without a lot of lateral movement. He’ll mix a cutter in the mid-80s as well, though the pitch has light, sweeping action and doesn’t project to be more than a wrinkle pitch to keep hitters off his fastball. Lynch commanded both sides of the plate with his four-seam fastball and cutter, though the loud contact allowed shows the limited margin for error he has within the zone. He’s more comfortable with a changeup than a breaking ball, showing more confidence in a fading low-80s circle-change that can get righties out on their front foot.

While Singer and Kowar would probably be ranked as power arms, Lynch appears to rely more on location:

Lynch projects to be a finesse lefty at the professional level. Scouts cite his thin frame as reason to wonder if his already fringy stuff backs up when he pitches on a more demanding schedule in the minor leagues. The best-case ceiling is that of a fifth starter who can soak up back-rotation innings, though he could fit a long or situational reliever if he ultimately lacks the stuff to face lineups more than once pitching out of the rotation.

So through their first three picks, Kansas City went with college pitchers with a good amount of upside. Their next pick didn’t stray far from the pattern.

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Credit: Stanford University

With the 40th pick (a competitive balance pick), the Royals would draft Stanford lefty Kris Bubic. Bubic has a delivery similar to Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw but that is where most of the similarities end:

Bubic is armed with a fastball that works best in the low-90s. He has a little reach-back velocity and can touch 95 MPH. It has some natural arm-side run, as is common with most lefties. What really has him on a path to success is a plus-changeup. He’s able to repeat his delivery and arm slot with it, giving it the look of a fastball. It has good fade down-and-away to right-handers, but he isn’t afraid to throw it against any hitter in any count. His curveball is a work in progress. He didn’t use it much during his first two seasons with the Cardinal, but it has improved enough this season to be a viable third pitch.

The good news is that while his ceiling is a bit unknown, his floor is higher than most:

A standout in the Cape Cod League last year, Bubic has the ceiling of a low-end No. 2 starter should everything click. More likely, he’s a solid No. 3/4 guy who thrives with his command/control profile and a borderline double-plus changeup. He could move quickly if he takes well to professional instruction. But don’t expect much more velocity, as he’s physically maxed out.

I’m interested to see how Bubic develops and he feels like a pitcher to keep an eye on. His change-up should get him places and it will be interesting to see what the Royals will want to do with his curve.

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Credit: Joe Murphy/University of Memphis

At this point it just made sense to continue on the trajectory they were on, so the Royals drafted another college pitcher, going with Memphis right-hander Jonathan Bowlan at #58:

The Memphis product has a solid fastball in the low-90s. The slider will flash better than average at its best, while an average changeup completes his arsenal. Not really a guy who will punch out a lot of hitters unless there is a serious uptick in stuff, Bowlan is probably a fifth starter or middle reliever within a few years.

Bowlan appears to be a underslot signing for Kansas City, but it also felt like the Royals had a direction they wanted to go in once Singer fell to them and they just went with it.

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Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

So what direction might that be? Maybe it’s just what lingers on the surface, but it appears Kansas City went the safe route with their picks on the first day by going with college pitchers. The Royals have been burned in the past by prep pitchers, so maybe they felt going with the older, more mature arms would garner a higher success rate than going with a high school player who has more talent but would take much longer to develop.

It also would make sense that the college pitchers could possibly start at a higher level, possibly in A ball. Maybe someplace like Lexington, where Royals prospects Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and Seuly Matias are currently playing at. Maybe, just maybe, the Kansas City brain-trust remembers how the core players from their 2015 championship (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, etc.) came up through the minors together and won together on their way to the major leagues. Maybe…they are looking to repeat history. I could just be reaching here, but if I’m not it’s definitely not the worst idea in the world.

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The one thing we absolutely can determine from the draft is that the Kansas City Royals have done a good job of replenishing the farm system, especially with their pitching. It will be years before we can determine the true value of these players and where they rank among other former Royals draftees.

The one thing we can say is the team went in with a game plan and it appears they followed it down to the letter. The baseball draft always feels like a crap-shoot and as far as we know none of these picks will truly leave their mark. But there is a chance they could be the next Splittorff, Saberhagen, or Duffy. Pitching is the currency of the sport and the Royals just increased how much they have sitting in the bank.

 

 

A Guide to the Royals Minor League Teams

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Credit: Clinton Riddle, SB Nation/Vox Media

Here we are, the middle of April and I’m sure a number of you are already frustrated with the Kansas City Royals. I mean, the bullpen has been a dumpster fire, the offense feels anemic and it’s just been a struggle to play games on consecutive days. Luckily, there is another way to enjoy Royals baseball this summer without watching the big league club.

For those of us longtime fans, we spent a number of the ‘Lean Years’ paying attention to the Royals minor league teams and keeping track of what the top prospects were up to. It was a way to keep an eye on the future while figuring out if these players fit in to what Kansas City needed.

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

So doing this can be daunting for a newcomer to Royals baseball or just for someone who has only ever focused on the major league squad. To help you out on this journey, I’m going to pass along some links and websites to keep track of so you can follow the progression of the Royals of tomorrow.

Let’s start with the Royals AAA affiliate, the Omaha Storm Chasers. To keep tabs on the team you just need to go to their website where you will get daily updates, schedules, statistics and more. You can also follow them on twitter or instagram. Top prospects currently on the Storm Chasers roster include Hunter Dozier, Richard Lovelady and Trevor Oaks. Since Omaha is the Royals top rung of the minor league system, they are a good source of seeing players who could be on the main roster sooner rather than later.

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Credit: ArkansasOnline.com

 

Going down the line, there is the Kansas City’s AA team, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. You can check out their official site for daily updates and the regular updates on Twitter. The team right now houses prospects like Foster Griffin, Samir Duenez and Donnie Dewees. The Royals occasionally promote players from AA but not as often as they used to, as many will receive a little bit of time in AAA before their promotion to the big leagues. The Naturals are also the team that current Royals bullpen coach Vance Wilson was managing for the last couple of seasons. I mention Wilson, since I’ve long believed he is a future Royals manager in waiting, which is relevant since Ned Yost’s contract runs out at the end of the year.

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Credit: Ken Inness/MiLB.com

Sliding down to High A ball, where we check in on the Royals affiliate, the Wilmington Blue Rocks. You can check out their main page and follow them on Twitter. Their roster has a nice array of prospects like Gerson Garabito, Chase Vallot, and top prospect Khalil Lee. The team will probably see a plethora of other top prospects recalled to their squad this year, since a number of the team’s top talent is in the lower section of the farm system.

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Credit: Brian McLeod/MiLB.com

Finally, there is the Royals Class A team, the Lexington Legends. Once again, they have their official minor league site and Twitter to follow. The team has a number of the Royals top shelf prospects, like last year’s number one draft pick Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and Seuly Matias. The players at this level are names you should be keeping tabs on and watching their progress, as they could be a big part of the major league team’s future. While the Royals are ranked as having one of the worst farm systems in baseball, the players at this level could start to turn the tide and we could start seeing results from them as early as this year.

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Credit: Clinton Riddle, SB Nation/Vox Media

If that isn’t enough to wet your appetite, there are a number of other sources of where you can get good analysis on players to keep an eye on. Clint Scoles does great work over at Baseball Prospectus Kansas City and you can follow him on the Twitter machine. There is also the Royals Farm Report, which does a thorough job of covering all aspects of the Royals farm system, whether on their site or on social media.

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the great work that Minda Haas Kuhlmann does, especially covering the Storm Chasers. You might have noticed that she took a number of the photos you see in this article and writes a weekly feature over at Royals Review. The feature is called “This Week in the Minors” and is a good way to keep up to date with what is going on with the organization on a weekly basis. Minda is a great writer and I highly suggest you check out her work, as it is always top notch.

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Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, I will occasionally write about some of the up and comers here at bleedingroyalblue.com. One of the fun aspects of being a baseball fan is keeping track of the players who are on the way and I’ve always enjoyed writing about them on this blog.

So that should get you started on following the Royals minor league system and help educate yourself about ‘who is next’. Just remember that while the major league team will probably struggle most of this 2018 season, they won’t lose forever. The odds always come around at some point and the Royals will be a contender again. When that happens, you will already have an idea who will be a part of the “Royal Resurgence”.

 

Keeping Up With the Royals in the Minors

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

Back in April I took an early look at how some of the Kansas City Royals top prospects were doing down in the minors.Since we are a little past the halfway point of the season and getting closer to September, when call-ups are made, I thought we could take a look today at how not only the prospects mentioned in April were doing, but also a few others.

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

Let’s start with Jorge Bonifacio, who has continued to be an offensive force in AAA Omaha. In 104 games this year, he has put up a line of . 276/.344/.470 with 15 home runs and 64 RBI’s. You can add a wRC+ of 114 to his numbers, which are almost all higher than his stats for last year. Bonifacio has even seen an uptick in his walk rate, while his strikeout rate is on par with 2015. I really don’t know if Kansas City still sees him as a future starter in the outfield, but if not he could be a nice trade piece if the team is looking for young starting pitching this offseason.

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

When last we checked in, Brooks Pounders was starting for the Storm Chasers while putting up some good numbers. He would eventually be moved to the pen, where he is continuing to put up good numbers. Over 70 innings, Pounders has an ERA of 2.82, FIP of 3.90 and 10.49 K/9. Pounders has had two stints with the Royals so far this year, with very mixed results. Pounders still has value out of the pen for the Royals, but probably not a permanent spot with the team.

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

Most Royals fans are interested in how Bubba Starling is doing since his recall to AAA, as he was given a promotion about a month ago. So far in 29 games, Bubba is hitting .218/.269/.327 with 2 home runs, 12 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 56 in 109 plate appearances. His walk and strikeout rate are a bit higher in AAA than he put up in AA in about half the games. This is the definition of a small sample size, but it doesn’t appear as if a higher level of talent has elevated Bubba’s offensive game much. Good thing he is a plus defender.

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

Third base prospect Hunter Dozier started the year in AA but was soon recalled to Omaha and has probably been their best hitter this year. In 76 games in AAA, Dozier is raking at a .306/.368/.519 clip with 13 home runs, 38 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 133. Combined with his AA numbers, he has hit 21 home runs, drove in 59 and a wRC+ of 164. Dozier has bounced back nicely from his rough 2015 season and has to be viewed as a possible replacement for Kendrys Morales next year as the Royals starting DH. He is definitely knocking on the Royals door and should be allowed entry soon enough.

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

Alec Mills started the 2016 season in AA and was able to make his major league debut in May. Mills has started 20 games combined this year between AA and AAA, with a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to results. Mills was solid in AA, throwing 67 innings with an ERA of 2.39, FIP of 2.09 and K/9 of 9.04. During his 8 games in Omaha, Mills numbers aren’t quite as impressive, as he has posted an ERA of 5.54, FIP of 5.59 and K/9 of 7.85 over 39 innings. His walk rate has jumped up to 3.23 in AAA and his HR/9 has also seen an uptick, to 1.62. There is quite a bit of room for improvement in Mills at AAA, but is still a solid prospect for Kansas City and I would imagine we will probably see him again sooner rather than later. I’ve always felt he might be better suited for work out of the bullpen, but with the Royals struggles with starting pitching, he could get a shot at the rotation in 2017.

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Matt Strahm has put up solid numbers this year for AA Northwest Arkansas, posting an ERA of 3.43, FIP of 3.68 and K/9 of 9.41 over 102 innings. The most impressive part of his season to me has been the dip in his BB/9, down to 2.02, the lowest of his career. Strahm was recalled by the Royals this past weekend and while he struggled in his major league debut, he threw some major heat in his second outing, ending his time on the hill with a strikeout on a fastball clocked at 97 mph. When the season began it seemed Strahm might be better suited for the pen in the long-term, but I think there is a chance he could be a future mid-rotation starter for Kansas City if allowed to develop. Either way, his electric arm will be in play soon enough for the Royals and should see some success no matter the role.

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Back in April we discussed Ryan O’Hearn, as he was killing the baseball for the Royals High A ball affiliate, the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Not long after my post, O’Hearn was summoned to AA and took over first base for Northwest Arkansas. O’Hearn had a small learning curve very early there, but would soon find his stroke. In 83 games, he is hitting .265/.349/.440 with 9 home runs, 36 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 125. Combined on the season, he has hit 16 home runs, 54 RBI’s not bad numbers for a guy in his age 23 season. O’Hearn has seen his walk rate kick up this year while his strike out rate has been steady, a good sign for a future power bat. O’Hearn seems to be developing at a good rate and I still feel like he has a good shot of being Eric Hosmer’s replacement at first base if Hos leaves Kansas City after the 2017 season.

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Pedro Fernandez was also recalled to AA this year but hasn’t seen much time there so far. After 6 games in Wilmington, Fernandez was recalled to Northwest Arkansas and so far has appeared in just 8 games, 5 of them starts. In AA he has an ERA of 4.03, FIP of 4.07 and his K/9 is at 5.90. The move to a higher level of baseball hasn’t been dominant for Pedro, but most of his numbers, like BB/9 and HR/9 are just a slight notch above what he has done the last few years in A ball. I doubt we see him in Kansas City anytime soon, but I would think he will begin the 2017 season in AA and then go from there.

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Samir Duenez has put up some stellar numbers at the Royals High A ball team, the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Duenez took over first base from O’Hearn and has hit .313/.380/.524 with 6 home runs, 24 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 149. Duenez has played in only 39 games in Wilmington, since being recalled from Lexington, another A ball affiliate for the Royals. Duenez has seen his walk rate improve in Wilmington but has also seen a slight increase in his strike out percentage. Between both teams this year, he has produced 12 home runs, 79 RBI’s and 41 total extra base hits. Duenez is only 20 years old and very well might improve his power numbers as he ages. Duenez is definitely a player to keep an eye on and see how he progresses in the minors.

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Josh Staumont is an interesting pitcher in the Royals farm system who was just recently recalled to AA from Wilmington. Staumont is a power pitcher, as is evident from his 11.59 K/9 in A ball this year. Problem is, he also has a bit of a control problem, also apparent by his BB/9 ratio of 8.26. Staumont has an electric arm and when he is on he is almost unhittable with his 95 mph+ fastball. But he still has a problem finding the strike zone some times and is still very much a work in progress. He has appeared in 4 games so far this year in AA and has an ERA of 3.31, FIP of 5.29, K/9 of 11.57 and BB/9 of 8.82. He has thrown 89 innings combined so far this year and most can see that Staumont could be a great arm for the Royals at some point down the road. Unfortunately, his control issues will slow down his progress and it is going to have to see an improvement before we can even discuss him contributing for the big league club. The arm is there, but Staumont is nowhere near a finished product.

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There are a number of other names within the Royals farm system you should keep your ear to the ground on. Nolan Watson, Ashe Russell, Marten Gasparini, Scott Blewett, Foster Griffin, Chase Vallot and Ramon Torres are all names that you could be hearing over the next 2-3 years. I would love to throw Kyle Zimmer into this conversation, but honestly, his health has been a constant concern. Zimmer was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and we won’t really know more until Spring Training rolls around next year. The Royals have some pieces for the future that will be helping the big league club and they will need it once the 2018 season rolls around. We are all aware that the farm system was gutted last summer in the Cueto and Zobrist trades, trades that helped the Royals win a world championship. The cupboard isn’t empty, but the team does need to stockpile more talent over the next couple seasons. Baseball has been moving more toward youth the last few seasons and more and more teams are willing to take chances on younger(cheaper) talent. These players could very well be part of the Royals future, some sooner than later.

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