With a Minor League season in jeopardy, the “Singer-era” will begin in KC on Opening Day

While it seems like Major League Baseball is getting ready for a late June to early July start to the season, the future of Minor League Baseball seems hazy at best. Last week, Joe E. Doyle of Lookout Landing, a Seattle Mariners SB Nation blog, wrote that inside sources in Minor League Baseball were pessimistic that a Minor League season would take place in 2020. That being said, shortly after that report came out, Minor League Baseball, and its associated teams, were quick to point out that no decision has been made just yet, as evidenced from the Omaha Storm Chasers tweet below:

While Minor League baseball is hoping to continue play at some point, it seems doubtful that it would be beneficial for Minor League teams to continue play in 2020, especially if fans are not able to attend games in person. First off, unlike Major League baseball, teams do not have lucrative television deals that could make up the lost revenue at the gate. While there is MiLB.TV, only a handful of broadcasts are professionally done, and its unlikely that teams make much revenue from that medium. Second, many Minor League teams were on shaky grounds financially as it was prior to this COVID pandemic (there was already talk of contraction of 42 teams prior to Spring Training, but that seems likely now thanks to this affected season). And thus, many teams may feel like its worth shutting down the season to save money for the remainder of the year, and hope that they can make things up in 2021, when fans can perhaps return to the ballpark. Of course, what could deter this from happening is if Major League teams supplement their Minor League affiliates with some kind of funding to help their top prospects continue play, but that seems unlikely, not to mention expensive, especially for a club like the Royals.

Hence, with it likely that the Royals organization will go without Minor League baseball this year (though to be fair, every other MLB team will be in this boat), that forces GM Dayton Moore to make a decision about what to do with the Royals’ top prospects, especially those who were expected to play in Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha this season and perhaps make a transition to Kansas City during the year. And no prospect of that group may be more interesting or important than pitcher Brady Singer, the Royals’ first-round pick from the 2018 draft.

Because right now, though some Royals fans argued in the beginning of Spring Training that Singer would benefit from some time in Omaha to start 2020 (mostly to save service time), it seems likely the “Singer Era” will begin in Kansas City in Opening Day in 2020 whether he is ready or not.

Singer was drafted by the Royals at No. 18 in the first round because he fit the mold of what they needed in their organization at the time: a polished college pitcher who could be ready for a spot in the Royals rotation in about two seasons. At 6’5, 210 pounds, and with a solid collegiate pedigree earned from three years at the University of Florida, a college powerhouse that plays in the best conference in college baseball, it seems like Singer has the look of a successful top-of-the rotation starter at the Major League level. He dominated in his last year at Florida, going 12-3 with a 2.55 ERA in 113 innings of work, leading the Gators to the Final Four of the College World Series after helping them win a National Championship in 2017.

Even though Singer signed late and did not play in 2018, he performed well in his first full season of Minor League baseball in 2019, moving quickly through High-A Wilmington and finishing the year in Double-A Northwest Arkansas as the team’s best pitcher down the stretch. Singer posted a 1.87 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 57 innings of work with the Blue Rocks, and then posted a 3.47 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 90 innings of work with the Naturals in a much more hitter-friendly Texas League. While the numbers in Double-A weren’t elite, Singer finished the year strong, as he posted a 2.98 FIP in his last 8 starts in comparison to a 4.72 FIP in his first 8, according to Royals Review writer Shaun Newkirk in his Top 20 rankings.

Even though he has only one year of professional ball under his belt, it seems like Moore and new manager Mike Matheny have been impressed with Singer’s ability to transition his competitiveness and drive seamlessly from college to the professional level. In an article on Singer by Baseball America, Matheny made note of Singer sticking out in early Spring Training due to this plus-intangible:

Singer’s approach has impressed first-year Royals Manager Mike Matheny. “This kid loves to compete, he loves the discipline. One of those overlooked disciplines of the game,” Matheny said. “All the prep work, all the diet, all the work behind the scenes; you can tell he takes great pride in it. He’s really standing out. He looks like he fits, he doesn’t look overwhelmed. His stuff looks fantastic.”

“Brady Singer Hopes Revitalized Changeup Spurs Path To Royals Rotation”, By Brady Vernon, Baseball America.

However, though his college history and makeup has earned rave reviews from Royals management, there is still some skepticism that Singer will live up to his first round hype. This mostly stems from his lack of a good third pitch, which is currently his changeup. Eric Longenhagn of Fangraphs noted that while his command and durability are a plus for him as a prospect, there are still some red flags that may keep Singer from developing into a top-of-the-rotation starter, if a starter at all:

“His stuff and delivery don’t have the look of a dominant, whiff-getting major league starter, at least not at the moment.  On talent, he’s a No. 4/5 type of starter for me, and any change to that will be determined by how Singer’s changeup, which he barely used in college, develops in pro ball.”

No. 4: Brady Singer by Eric Longenhagen; Royals Top 40 Prospects 2020; Fangraphs

Newkirk of Royals Review also remains skeptical of Singer, as he too rated him as No. 4 currently in the Royals system. Here is what Newkirk said about Singer in his profile:

It’s easy to fall in love with the snarling college pitcher who dominated the SEC but even though he did do better down the home stretch in AA (2.98 FIP in his last 8 games vs a 4.72 FIP in his first 8), he didn’t really “wow” enough to fulfill the proverbial crown he has been given. Left handed batters hit .307/.374/.398 and .260/.337/.379 off him in Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas, respectively.

No. 4: Brady Singer by Shaun Newkirk; Top 20 Royals Prospects for 2020; Royals Review

Thus, it would have made sense for the Royals to start Singer in Omaha, just so he could continue to develop his changeup against hitters in a less riskier environment (though the PCL hitting conditions certainly aren’t forgiving by any measure; ask Scott Blewett). Furthermore, while Singer held his own in Spring Training of the Top 4 Royals pitching prospects (Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Kris Bubic), his 4.76 ERA, 1.94 WHIP, and 1.50 K/BB ratio left a little to be desired, even though it was only 5.2 innings of work. While Singer didn’t necessarily do anything to deter the Royals from keeping him off the Opening Day roster in Surprise, he didn’t necessarily to do anything extraordinary to prove to management that he should be on the roster without a doubt.

Singer is not a 100 percent ready for Major League baseball…but he may be 90 percent ready, and with no Minor League baseball a possibility, maybe 90 percent may be enough to convince Moore and Matheny to add him to the 40-man when baseball starts up again in June.

The big question on Royals fans’ minds will be whom Singer will replace on the 40-man roster. As of now, it seems like the top two candidates would be either Scott Blewett, who failed to impress in Omaha last year or Spring Training in Surprise, or Jesse Hahn, a 30-year-old former starter who is making a transition to the bullpen. Hahn may seem like the likely option, as he is 30-years old, and will only cost the Royals $600,000 to release. But, if the Royals could DFA Blewett and still keep him, that may be also a good route, since Hahn could offer something in the bullpen with his high-velocity stuff, and it seems like Blewett will be a year or two away from contributing to the Royals in any form (with a bullpen role the most likely).

It’s definitely not an ideal situation for Singer, or any of the top prospects in the Royals system, to be in as of now. It would have been nice for the Royals to ease Singer in at the Major League level, especially with his changeup as raw as it is currently. And yet, the Royals need to get some return from their 2018 first round pick, as well as their overall crop of top pitching prospects from that 2018 draft. Singer is the most ready of the four, though it would not be surprising to see the Royals gradually add one or two more of those arms (Kowar and Lynch being the most likely) over the course of the 100-game season, especially if the season goes south. The nice thing about the Royals pitching staff now is that there is plenty of opportunity, as no pitcher really has a “set” spot, typical for a staff after back-to-back 100-plus loss seasons.

It will be interesting to see if Singer will step up to the challenge of a hurried Major League debut. The Royals haven’t shied away from this in the past, as they also went an expedited route with former first round pick college pitchers such as Aaron Crow and Brandon Finnegan. Granted though, those pitchers who rushed to the bullpen in middle-relief roles, not a starting one like Singer.

There’s no question that Singer’s makeup and competitiveness will help him in his rookie campaign in 2020. What will “make or break” him though will be the development of his third pitch, and how he handles the “ups and downs” of the Major League campaign, especially as they adjust to him over the course of the season. Will he struggle, like he did in his latter innings of work this Spring? Or will he step up and adjust as well, like he did in the Texas League last year?

Royals fans cannot wait to see what Singer will bring to the rotation in this weird, shortened season. If Singer performs, that could give encouragement to Royals fans that the “Core 4” of pitching prospects are as good as advertised. But if he struggles, well…that could not only be bad for the Royals’ chances in 2020, but also a foreboding sign for Moore’s future in Kansas City as general manager as well.

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