Bringing up top prospects on any Major League Baseball team is a delicate dance in prudence. Sure, it is important that young players get the proper coaching and development in the minors, as well as receive an adequate amount of competition and challenges in relation to their age group. While the temptation will be there for an organization to rush a top prospect to the Major as soon as possible, a club does not want to do so and risk the prospects’ confidence getting shot in their first Major League call up, which could hurt their performance over the remainder of their career.
That is the line of thought of most organizations for most baseball prospects, especially position ones. However, pitching prospects can be a different animal all together, especially if you believe in the term that “There is No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect.”
For those who do not know, the acronym TNSTAAPP was popularized by Baseball Prospectus writer Joe Sheehan back in 2003 (though as he admits in the article, the term was actually coined by Gary Huckaby in the late 1990s on the defunct web site rec.sports.baseball). Here is what Sheehan says about what the acronym means and the theory behind it:
“There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect” (TNSTAAPP, for short) is actually a shorthand way of expressing the idea that minor-league pitchers are an unpredictable, unreliable subset of baseball players…The principles behind TNSTAAPP are pretty simple. Pitchers are unpredictable. They’re asked to perform an unnatural act–throw baseballs overhand–under great stress, thousands of times a year. They get hurt with stunning frequency, sometimes enough to cost them a career, more often just enough to hinder their effectiveness…Minor-league pitchers have all of the inconsistencies of the class, and are still developing in significant ways: physically, mentally and emotionally. If you can’t predict where most major-league pitchers will be two years out, it’s quite a conceit to think you can predict where any minor-league pitcher will be even one year out.”Joe Sheehan, “Prospectus Today” 2003.
Thus, when taking into account TNSTAAP and the Royals meager predictions for 2020, Royals fans have to ask themselves the following question: should the Royals promote their elite pitching prospects (Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Kris Bubic) as soon as possible in 2020 and just let the chips fall where they may? Or should the Royals continue to protect their assets as much as possible, and be prudent in the four pitchers’ promotions this year?
The dilemma certainly is an agonizing one for Kansas City fans and will continue to be debated this Spring, especially after the way this Spring Training has started for the four.
The Royals starting rotation, and pitching in general, was a mess in 2019. Overall, the Royals ranked 24th in pitching WAR, and their starters ranked 27th in the same category. While the Royals saw some potential from Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, and Jakob Junis at times in 2019, that effectiveness was often inconsistent, and the Royals failed to get much from the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation as well. Jorge Lopez and Glenn Sparkman got shelled for the most part (they posted a minus-0.2 and minus-0.5 WAR respectively last year), and though Mike Montgomery got off to a decent start after being acquired from the Cubs, he also faded down the stretch, ending the year with a 4.64 ERA and 5.23 FIP.
Thus, the Royals’ future rotation is a huge question mark, and though Keller is relatively young, it will be interesting to see if his sinker-heavy, groundball-inducing approach will stick at the top of the rotation for this upcoming season and beyond. Furthermore, not many of the options coming from Triple-A are all that promising. Foster Griffin and Scott Blewett are both options on the 40-man roster who were once top prospects, but they struggled immensely against Pacific Coast League hitting, as they posted 5.74 and 8.17 FIP numbers with the Storm Chasers a year ago. While the PCL certainly isn’t a pitcher’s paradise by any means, the combination of high FIP totals and low K/BB ratios (Griffin posted a 1.73 ratio and Blewett posted a 1.22 mark in Omaha in 2019) don’t inspire any confidence in Royals fans that Griffin or Blewett can solve the Royals’ starting pitching woes in 2020.
However, though only Singer and Kowar have pitched over High-A ball (they both saw time in Double-A Northwest Arkansas), all four pitchers have showed potential this Spring that they could reasonably debut at some point in 2020. In fact, let’s take a look in detail at what each of the four young guns has done this Spring:
- Brady Singer has struck out four batters over three innings and two appearances, which included one start against the Cubs. He has allowed zero runs and three hits in his first two appearances this Spring.
- Daniel Lynch made his debut against the cubs and went two innings with a walk, two hits, two strikeouts and zero runs earned. He also looked impressive in a “B” scrimmage earlier this week against primarily Minor League players.
- Kris Bubic went two innings today against the Brewers, striking out two while allowing one hit, one walk, and zero runs.
- Jackson Kowar has struggled a bit, allowing three runs on three hits with two walks over 1.2 innings pitched this Spring. He has only one strikeout, but the reports on his stuff this Spring have been solid. It’s just his command that needs some work.
While it is unreasonable that all four will make the Opening Day roster (after all, none of them are currently on the 40-man roster at all), they certainly are making the case that they will deserve a call up at some point this year. Singer could certainly challenge for an Opening Day rotation spot, but even if he doesn’t earn it, it seems more than likely he’ll break in by mid-to-late May or early June at the latest. Lynch and Bubic will probably need some time in Double-A, but at this rate, they probably are performing well enough to earn a call-up around the All-Star break.
And Kowar? Who’s struggled the most? Well, it depends on how he bounces back this Spring. If he recovers from the rough start in Surprise. If he improves, it is likely that he could be the next starter to debut after Singer, as he pitched in the Texas League a year ago. However, if he continues to struggle this Spring and early in 2020, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him not only debut around the same time as Lynch and Bubic, but perhaps after them, which would be a shame considering the progress he made a year ago in Double-A.
Whenever the debut occurs for the four, this much is certain: they look ready for the Majors at some point this year, and Kansas City is ready for them to pitch at Kauffman Stadium in 2020.
As of now, the Royals have the first four spots in the rotation solidified, which is as follows: Keller, Duffy, Junis, and Montgomery (in no particular order, though Montgomery seems the likely No. 4 at this point). However, the fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs, and even though Royals fans seem likely to prefer Lopez or Sparkman out of the pen, it would not be surprising if one of them gets the fifth spot due to the lack of options, or even perhaps Rule 5 pick Stephen Woods, Jr. if general manager Dayton Moore wishes to preserve the service time status of Singer or any of the other three prospects and prevent them from entering into arbitration too soon.
That being said, it would be a shame for the Royals to prioritize finances over the product on the field. Yes, we as Royals fans know that as a small market team it is a challenge to keep players, and we want our best players as long as possible within reasonable financial means. However, the Royals are already in rebuilding mode, and the idea of almost expecting a loss once every five days with Lopez or Sparkman or someone worse on the hill is not a good way to inspire fan confidence in this Royals team for 2020. The Royals have some solid mashers like Whit, Dozier, Soler, and a healthy Salvy, and overall, from top to bottom, the lineup should improve this upcoming season. It would be nice to see the Royals show some progress in the rotation as well.
And these four could do it. Maybe not by Opening Day, but it should be early, and they all should be together to prove what they can do at the Major League level at some point this year. Yes, it may make things tough financially down the road, but these four young arms are already showing their stuff this Spring in Surprise, and they deserve to show it in Kansas City soon. They are not young kids just out of high school: they’re all polished college arms who are ready to show their stuff and how it can translate at the Major League level.
They’re doing it in a small way this Spring, and correspondingly, they are captivating Royals fans’ attentions early this Spring Training. Let’s see if Moore will let these four showcase their ability “all-the-way” in Kansas City at the Major League level this upcoming season, either by or a few weeks after Opening Day.