It is easy for Royals fans (or fans of any baseball team) to overreact after one Spring Training game. However, this is a Royals blog, so to be honest, overreacting is part of the gig. So after one game, let’s take a look at three pitchers, currently on the 40-man roster, who will need to show some improvement this Spring and early into this upcoming season to justify their spots on the 40-man roster by Opening Day.
Eric Skoglund, LHP (-0.3 WAR with Royals in 2019)
Skoglund is a tall left-handed pitcher who has been categorized as a “good” but not “elite” prospect in the Royals system. It was common to see him anywhere from 4-10 in Royals team prospect rankings, as he was rated highly due to his command and control rather than just pure stuff. After debuting in 2017 to mixed results (he posted a 9.50 ERA over 18 innings of work in 2017), Skoglund showed some potential that he could be an end-of-the-rotation starter for years to come in 2018. Over 13 starts and 70 innings of work, Skoglund posted a 5.14 ERA and 0.2 WAR, helped by a 2.58 K/BB ratio, a sign that his control was transitioning to the Major League level, though he needed to command a little better to avoid the long ball (1.58 HR/9).
However, though 2018 showed that Skoglund could improve over more innings of work, things took a turn in the Winter of 2019. In January of that year, Skoglund tested positive for PEDs, and was suspended for the first 80 games of the 2019 season. When Skoglund did return, he looked frail both in size and strength, as his fastball went from 92 MPH in 2018 to 89.9 MPH in 2019. With a suddenly hittable meatball for a primary pitch, hitters feasted on Skoglund in limited action in Kansas City. He posted a 9.00 ERA, 7.36 FIP, 2.14 HR/9, 0.44 K/BB ratio, and a minus-0.3 WAR over 21 innings with the Royals last year. Safe to say, Skoglund was pretty bad last year, and that is putting it nicely.
So far, there were some early reports that Skoglund took a lot of strides to improve his mental as well as physical aspects this off-season to prepare for this critical season. Skoglund added some much needed weight, and it seems like he took some steps to help him get over a trying 2019 year. However, Skoglund’s 2020 Spring Training debut went a lot like 2019, as he only went 0.2 innings and gave up three hits, three runs, a walk, and a home run.
Yes, Skoglund would be a nice bounce back story, especially after all the trials he endured in 2019. But, Skoglund is not off to a good start this Spring, and he will need to show more in his future appearances this Spring Training to justify his position on the 40-man roster.
Chance Adams, RHP (-0.3 WAR with Yankees in 2019)
Another pitcher who got batted around and struggled in his Spring debut was newly acquired right-hander Chance Adams, who was acquired from the Yankees this Winter. A former top prospect in the Yankees system (he was rated as the 4th best prospect overall in the 2018 Baseball America Prospect Handbook), Adams struggled at the big league level with the Yankees, posting a 8.18 ERA and minus-0.5 WAR over 33 innings of work with the Yankees the past two seasons. The Royals, always eager to nab reclamation projects on the cheap, hoped that a change of scenery and development emphasis this Spring could help turn around Adams’ prospects at the Major League level.
Unfortunately, Adams’ Royals’ debut did not go swimmingly, much like Skoglund. Adams gave up two innings and two runs to allow the Rangers to take the lead in the ninth and eventually win the game (though to be fair, the winning run ended up being due to an error by Jeison Guzman). While Adams displayed decent stuff, his lack of command and control, a knock on him when he was with the Yankees, showed itself on occasion yesterday against the Rangers.
Adams does not really have a role yet with this Royals club, and this Spring will be an opportunity for Mike Matheny to figure out what Adams’ future will be at the Major League level. Is Adams a reliever? Is he a starter? Whatever he ends up becoming with the Royals, he will need to have better outings than he did on Friday if he wants to prove that he was worth acquiring this off-season.
Scott Blewett, RHP (8.52 ERA with Storm Chasers in 2019)
Scott Blewett has the look and tools to be an elite starter at the Major League level. At 6’6 and 210 pounds, the former second round pick is an intimidating figure on the mound. Furthermore, with a fastball that can touch 96 and sit in the 92-93 MPH range, he has the tools and pitch repertoire to be at least decent at the Major League level. Hence, it’s no surprise that the Royals have him on the 40-man roster, hoping that he could give them rotation support should the club get hit by injuries.
However, Blewett was a hot mess in Omaha, as the “juiced balls” of the Pacific Coast League didn’t help his cause for a call up in 2019. He posted a 8.52 ERA, to go along with a 2.66 HR/9, 1.22 K/BB ratio, and 8.17 FIP over 16 starts and 81.1 innings of work with the Storm Chasers. To help rebuild his confidence and approach, the organization sent him back down to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, which ended up being a positive. Blewett was much better over the five start Double-A stint, posting a 3.55 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 4.22 K/BB ratio, and 0.71 HR/9 over 25 innings of work. While the finish to the year was nice, Blewett needs to prove that he can succeed at least a little bit at Triple-A to prove that he is worthy of a call up to Kansas City in 2020.
Blewett will get the start today after his initial 2020 debut was postponed due to weather. It will be interesting to see if Blewett will be able able to put his 2019 problems behind him, and put out a solid performance in his 2020 Cactus League debut. Blewett has the tools to make it at the Major League level, but he needs some solid performances against Major League hitters this Spring to justify his position on the 40-man roster this season, especially with elite prospects like Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Kris Bubic (none are on the 40-man currently) waiting in the wings.