While it only Spring Training, baseball games officially begun, as the Royals and Rangers kicked things off in the Cactus League, Friday. While the Royals did lose 5-4, blowing a lead in the ninth, there were some positives from the game, with reliever Josh Staumont being the one that may have stood out the most on Opening Day in Surprise.
Staumont is 26-years-old and will finally convert to a full time role in the bullpen in 2020. Drafted initially as a starter out of Azusa Pacific in the 2015 Draft, Staumont was called up when rosters expanded last September and put in about 15 innings of work at the Major League level. Over that short cup of coffee, Staumont flashed velocity (he averaged 95.9 MPH on his fastball), and swing and miss potential (he posted a swinging strike percentage of 9.2 percent, according to Fangraphs), but struggled a bit with command and control, as evidenced by his 1.50 K/BB ratio and 1.86 HR/9. And though his 3.72 ERA displayed a decent debut for Staumont, his corresponding 6.06 FIP belied that Staumont’s debut certainly has its share of warts and question marks.
However, despite a mixed KC debut, the future looks bright for Staumont, and it is possible that he could be a key member of this bullpen for years to come. First off, it seems like the Royals are committed to making Staumont a reliever, which really did not come to fruition until 2018, his second season in Omaha. At Royals FanFest this January, during the reliever panel that Saturday, Staumont admitted that coming out of the bullpen was a new experience for him, as he was used to starting or “opening” games, and was getting accustomed to the pressure and uncertainty of when he would come in. While he did give props to his other fellow relievers for being able to do that effectively over longer courses of time (such as Ian Kennedy and Scott Barlow), it did seem during FanFest that Staumont has embraced the pressures and challenges of being a reliever, and he’s ready to find long-term success in the role.
In addition to finally being comfortable in a bullpen role, Staumont’s stuff continues to look electric and may be the best in the organization. In his inning of work against the Rangers yesterday, Staumont struck out the side, and his stuff was blazing on the radar gun, as evidenced by this tweet below:
Stuff has never been a problem for Staumont, who once was rated as the organization’s top prospect in 2017, according to Baseball America. Staumont relies primarily on a fastball-curve combo, as he throws those pitches 59.5 percent and 30.4 percent of the time, respectively, according to Baseball Savant. He does also throw a cutter (4 percent of the time) and sinker (6.1 percent of the time), but he didn’t throw it often, and it will be interesting to see if Staumont eliminates one of those pitches from his arsenal in order to work on his main pitches more, which could effectively improve his command and control.
Staumont’s most marketable pitch may be his fastball, which as we saw yesterday, can touch triple-digits and at the very least, sit in the 95-97 MPH range. However, while it carries some heat, it can get pretty straight, and Staumont will leave it up in the zone at times, which makes it quite an easy to hit pitch. He only posted a 15.9 whiff percentage and 9.1 put out percentage with the pitch a year ago, with hitters posting a xwOBA of .432 on the pitch. Granted, that pitch wasn’t touching triple-digits this Spring (though it is only one game in the dry conditions of Arizona), so if Staumont does see an uptick in velocity, it is possible that the fastball could be more effective in 2020.
That being said, while his fastball is going to generate the most talk with Royals fans, his curve ball may be his most effective pitch. According to Statcast, his curve had a whiff percentage of 43.2, and a put out percentage of 31.6. Thus, Staumont has proven at the Major League level that he has an effective secondary pitch, key to succeeding as a reliever at the Major League level. Furthermore, he also had a whiff percentage of 16.7 on his cutter, which shows that maybe his cutter may be worth keeping over his sinker if he decided to eliminate one pitch from his arsenal this Spring. Therefore, Staumont could sport an effective three-pitch combo, but it will just be a matter of locating his fastball better when it comes to finding success at the Major League level.
With triple-digit fastball potential, and a curve ball that could be an effective out pitch at the Major League level, there definitely is some talk generating that Staumont could develop into the Royals’ closer of the future. While Ian Kennedy is currently the Royals’ closer now, it is unlikely that he will be with the Royals in 2021. Furthermore, while Scott Barlow has solid stuff and succeeded in the setup role last season, he does not have the prospect profile of Staumont (though that isn’t always an indicator of future success, of course). Thus, with a little more development in high leverage situations this year, it is possible that Staumont could challenge for the Royals’ closer role as soon as 2021.
If Royals fans watch his presence on the mound, there is a lot of Sam Dyson in his pitching. He looks like Dyson on the mound, especially in the stretch, and it will be curious to see if Staumont can develop into a Dyson 2.0 of sorts, which wouldn’t be a bad thing to have as Dyson has developed into a dependable reliever at the Major League level. Check out the video below, and it’s hard to shake those Dyson comparisons:
Staumont has the stuff to succeed as a closer, but the mindset and ability to handle the pressure will be the key indicators in terms of whether or not he succeeds in the role. Striking guys out in the middle innings is one thing, but to do so in the ninth, with runners on and the game on the line is a whole different challenge. After all, Chance Adams, a former top prospect with the New York Yankees who was acquired by the Royals this off-season, has good stuff as well, but yesterday showed that the Royals probably will need to find a middle-innings role for him, as he failed to lock things down in the ninth.
It will be interesting to see if Mike Matheny will utilize Staumont as the closer in spots any time this Spring. With two options left, it is likely that Staumont will begin a fourth campaign in the PCL unless injury or ineffectiveness ravages the Royals bullpen this Spring. However, if he succeeds in the closer’s role this Spring, he could take the closer’s role with the Storm Chasers full time this year, which could help with an eventual transition to the closer’s role in Kansas City by 2021.
The potential is there for Staumont to be another great closer in the line of past lockdown Royals relievers such as Joakim Soria, Greg Holland (who’s back!), Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera. That being said, he will need to iron out his command and show effectiveness in high leverage situations in 2020 in order to prove to Royals management that he is ready for the ninth in 2021.
Staumont is off to a great start this Spring. Let’s hope, Royals fans, that he continues to improve and show signs in Surprise and in 2020 (wherever he pitches) that he is ready to be the next great Royals closer by 2021.