With Spring Training officially done, and the MLB season in limbo (or at least the start of it), I think Royals fans can take a look and reflect on how this Spring went for various players. While nothing official has been made in terms of the Royals 26-man roster (mostly because nobody knows what’s going to happen this season), there were some Royals players this Spring who made substantial gains in Surprise, and could be key contributors in 2020.
So let’s take a look at four Royals pitchers who impressed this Spring Training in the Cactus League. I focused on pitchers I did not talk on too thoroughly in previous posts, so even though Chance Adams, Randy Rosario, Glenn Sparkman, Greg Holland, and Trevor Rosenthal were pitchers who made gains this Spring, I did not include them on the list, as they had deeper analysis on them in previous posts (which I hyperlinked in their name).
Tyler Zuber, RHP
Zuber has been an under-the-radar prospect in the Royals system for a variety of reasons. He isn’t exactly intimidating size-wise at 5’11 and 175 pounds (Tim Lincecum height) and he was primarily a bullpen arm at Arkansas State, not exactly a baseball powerhouse. Hence, it’s not a surprise that Zuber, who’s 24-years-old currently, didn’t command much hype from prospect experts even though he’s produced everywhere he’s been as a professional. Over his career, he’s struck out 177 batters in a 133 innings, and he accumulated 31 saves a season ago as the Blue Rocks and Natural closer at High-A and Double-A, respectively. Thus, it is not a surprise that the Royals invited Zuber to big-league camp this Spring as a non-roster invitee.
At the start of Spring Training, hardcore Royals prospect junkies and fans wanted to see if Zuber’s command and stuff would transition to the Cactus League. Even though he didn’t face the most amazing competition (his opponent quality score according to Baseball Reference was 6.8, which is around Double-A level competition), he did thrive in Surprise and made a case that he could see some time at the Major League level in 2020. Zuber struck out eight batters in six innings , walked only one, and gave up only one run and three hits during his Cactus League stint.
Zuber’s size will always be a concern, and as a full-time reliever, his potential is limited if he doesn’t transition his Minor League performance to Kansas City. That being said, despite the meager expectations and doubts, Zuber has always seemed to exceed them, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him exceed them as a Royal at some point this season.
Jake Newberry, RHP
Newberry is an interesting dilemma in the bullpen. He’s not exactly a lights-out arm by any means. Even though he posted a decent 3.77 ERA over 31 innings in Kansas City a year ago, his 1.45 WHIP, 1.81 K/BB ratio, and 5.92 FIP hint that Newberry was lucky last year, and he is due to see some regression in 2020 at the Major League level. With a couple of options left, it seems all but certain that Newberry will start the year in Omaha.
Even though Newberry may start in Omaha, he did have a solid Spring in Surprise. He struck out three and allowed zero runs over 5.1 innings, and put up a 1.13 WHIP and 3.00 K/BB ratio this Spring. Newberry is not a strikeout machine, and he will always be at the mercy of BABIP. But he gets outs, and limits damage, which is what one kind of hopes for at the Major League level from a reliever. While it is doubtful that Newberry will be a high-leverage guy, he proved last year and this Spring that he could be a low to medium leverage guy who could be useful in middle innings for the Royals.
Of course, it is likely that Royals fans won’t see him until middle of the year or if someone in the bullpen goes down to injury.
Richard Lovelady, LHP
Lovelady has always been highly regarded as a prospect (though certainly not elite), as he has a career 2.17 ERA and 3.83 over 191 innings in the Minors. However, Lovelady’s debut in Kansas City didn’t go as well as hoped. Lovelady proved to be quite hittable, as he posted a 1.90 WHIP and and a 13.5 H/9. Thus, it’s not a surprise that Lovelady posted a 7.65 ERA with the Royals in 2019, and bounced around between Omaha and Kansas City as well.
However, it turns out that Lovelady was dealing with some injury issues, which may have impeded his performance with the Royals last year. Recovered and healthy, Lovelady in the Cactus League proved that he has the potential to be a solid left-handed option out of the Royals pen for manager Mike Matheny. Lovelady struck out six batters in 4.1 innings of work and he posted a 0.46 WHIP, a far cry from what he produced in the Majors a season ago.
With new Major League rules stating that a pitcher will have to face at least three batters in an inning, and with lefties Tim Hill and Randy Rosario already on the roster, it seems likely that Lovelady will start the year in Omaha. However, if Rosario falters, or if Hill is traded (which is being rumored, with Oakland the biggest suitor), then Lovelady will not only be the first one up, but he could improve upon his lackluster metrics a season ago.
Josh Staumont, RHP
I have talked about Staumont before on this blog, but that was early in Spring Training. Thus, I included him on this list because I was curious to see if Staumont would be able to continue his production throughout the remainder of Spring Training and make a run at a spot on the 26-man roster.
Safe to say, Staumont not only maintained his strong start, but he also seems likely to grab the last remaining bullpen spot on the Royals’ 26-man roster.
Staumont has always displayed solid, Major-League ready stuff. However, in his debut in Kansas City a season ago, he struggled with command, as he walked 4.7 batters per nine innings and posted a K/BB ratio of 1.50, both pretty sub-average. While his 3.72 ERA was decent in the 19.1 innings of work he saw at the Major League level, his questionable command metrics made Royals fans wonder if he would put it together and be more than a “wild card” reliever at the Major League level.
In Cactus League play, Staumont displayed better command, as he struck out 10 batters and walked only 3 in 6 innings of work. For the Spring, he posted a 0.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 3.33 K/BB ratio, and his stuff actually gained some velocity this Spring, as evidenced in the Tweet below:
So far, Staumont has done everything possible in Surprise to prove that he deserves a spot at the Major League level. And not only has he showed that he merits a place in the Royals bullpen, he has also showed this Spring that he could be a valuable reliever in late innings, especially if his stuff maintains in the 99-101 MPH range during the regular season.