To say that the last 24 hours have been “interesting” for Royals fans is putting it lightly. After a pretty tame off-season thus far by the Royals front office, Dayton Moore made two big moves on Sunday night and Monday morning, with the first big move being reported late Sunday evening by Ken Rosenthal:
Though financials have not been shared just yet, it seems that Minor’s deal in Kansas City is pretty much a done deal, as multiple sources have reported that Minor and the Royals have agreed on a two-year deal, pending a physical. However, the Royals were not done making moves on Monday, as the Royals officially announced this free agent signing on their own social media:
The Winter Meetings have not even started yet, and MLB is still two days away from the Non-Tender Deadline, but it seems like Moore and the Royals are wasting no time in owner John Sherman’s first full off-season since acquiring the club last November. And for Royals fans who are eager that the club will make more moves, this tidbit from Kansas City Star Royals beat writer Lynn Worthy was also intriguing:
There is a lot to talk about in regard to both signings, so I will focus on Minor in this post and Taylor in another. That being said, let’s take a look at what the Minor signing means to the Royals in 2021 and 2022, and how it could impact the rotation and the pitching staff as a whole in the near future.
Minor is no stranger to the Royals, as Minor signed a two-year deal with Kansas City in 2016 worth about $7.25 million after being non-tendered by the Atlanta Braves. What made the deal interesting at the time was that Minor had missed all of 2015 and was scheduled to miss all of 2016 due to recovery from shoulder surgery. Thus, the Royals were pretty much banking on him producing greatly in 2017 to make the contract worthwhile. Thankfully for the Royals, the former Vanderbilt product and first-round pick made good on the Royals’ risky decision.
After a rough final season in Atlanta in which he went 6-12 and posted a 4.77 ERA in 25 starts and 145.1 IP in 2014, Minor rebounded in a relief role with the Royals in 2017. Minor appeared in 65 games for Kansas City and not only posted a 2.55 ERA and 2.62 FIP, but he also posted a K/9 rate of 10.20 (a career high), a K/BB ratio of 4.00, and accumulated a WAR of 2.2 in 77.2 IP with the Royals. While the Royals finished with an 80-82 record in 2017, Minor was a big reason why the Royals stayed in the playoff hunt in the AL Central and Wild Card in 2017.
Minor ended up signing a three-year deal with the Texas Rangers after the 2017 season and ended up thriving as a starting pitcher in Arlington. In 2018, he made 28 starts and pitched 157 innings with the Rangers and ended up posting a a 4.18 ERA and accumulating a 2.5 WAR in his return to the rotation. However, 2019 was Minor’s best season as a professional, as he not only improved his WAR to 4.1, but he also pitched 208.1 innings, and improved his ERA to 3.59. After garnering some Cy Young consideration in his breakout season, Minor put himself in the conversation as one of the most underrated starting pitchers in the American League.
That being said, while Minor made tremendous gains in 2019, he took a step back in 2020, as he split the shortened campaign between Texas and Oakland. In 12 appearances, Minor posted a 5.56 ERA and only accumulated a 0.9 WAR in 56.2 innings of work with the Rangers and A’s. While Minor still posted a good K/BB ratio (3.10) and demonstrated considerable spin on his fastball (he ranked in the 97th percentile in fastball spin, according to Statcast), he was particular hurt by the long ball. His HR rate increased from 12.9 percent in 2019 to 15.7 percent in 2020, and his barrel rate allowed also increased from 6.6 percent in 2019 to 10.3 percent in 2020.
The common thread between these two “warning signs” is a decrease in Minor’s fastball velocity, as his velocity regressed from 92.5 MPH in 2019 to 90.6 MPH in 2020. Considering he still threw the pitch 50.6 percent of the time, the decline is concerning, though if one digs deep into the Statcast data, it really shouldn’t be seen as something for Royals fans to panic about.
Even though Minor’s fastball velocity decreased from 2019 to 2020, he actually was more effective on the pitch on a wOBA basis, as hitters wOBA on fastballs was .301 in 2020, nearly 17 points lower than 2019, according to Statcast data. However, what hurt Minor the most was hitters’ effectiveness against secondary pitches, as they posted a .253 wOBA against his changeup (a 27 point increase) and a .413 wOBA against his slider ( a 47 point increase). Yes, the fastball velocity is a concern and it would be nice to see that bump up next season. However, Minor will also need to improve the command on his secondary pitches in 2021 as well if he wants to return to his 2019 form.
The decision to sign Minor is an interesting one considering that pitching is a source of depth in the Royals organization. For many Royals fans, Minor seems like an unnecessary signing, as some may believe that the Royals would be better off filling in Minor’s spot in the rotation in 2021 with Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Asa Lacy, or another heralded pitching prospect in the Royals farm system (Jonathan Bowlan, Austin Cox, and Carlos Hernandez come to mind).
However, Minor is not asked to be a James Shields-type in the sense that he is being depended on to “lead” the Royals rotation (which Shields did from 2013 to 2014). Rather, Minor is being asked to stabilize the end of the rotation, an area the Royals struggled with in 2020. While Brad Keller, Brady Singer, and Kris Bubic held their own, Danny Duffy was up and down (especially past the fourth inning), and the Royals failed to get much production in the fifth spot of the rotation, as Jakob Junis, Matt Harvey, and Carlos Hernandez all failed to offer much in the spot. With Minor in the rotation, the Royals can push Junis to the bullpen, where his plus-slider arsenal will be better utilized. Furthermore, the addition of Minor can let the Royals develop in Double or Triple-A, which would give him the ability to develop his secondary pitches and command. (Matt Harvey was released this off-season, so he was non-factor from the get-go.)
And thus, the idea of the Royals having Minor and Duffy round out the rotation is an improvement from a year ago (remember, it was between Glenn Sparkman, Mike Montgomery, and Jorge Lopez to round out the rotation a year ago; none of them are still with the Royals). Additionally, the Minor signing also gives the Royals pitching flexibility, especially when they feel ready to call up Lynch or Kowar up to Kansas City. Both Minor and Duffy have their fair share of question marks going into 2021, but they both have the ability to move to and improve in the bullpen, should the Royals decided to go with their youth movement in the rotation at some point in 2021. Minor and Duffy both have a history of success as Royals relievers and thus, the Royals pitching staff as a whole could benefit from their versatility, especially Minor’s. Minor’s metrics still demonstrate an elite-ish pitcher, and David Lesky of Royals Review tweeted an interesting tidbit in regard to Minor’s ZiPS projections for 2021:
At first, it seemed like the Royals were going to get a Matt Shoemaker or Homer Bailey type this off-season to fill out the rotation (i.e. a project that they were hoping would outperform their contract by a massive amount). Instead, the Royals got a more established commodity who has not only demonstrated that he can be a worthwhile starting pitcher, but has also proved that he can succeed in Kansas City as a Royal.
The Royals got a great deal with Minor, and Royals fans should not be surprised if he bounces back from a rough 2020 and boosts this Royals rotation next season (and perhaps in 2022 as well). While there are plenty of young arms coming up in the Royals system, Minor could offer a solid veteran presence, which may be needed considering Duffy will be a free agent after next season. Keller and Minor could be the veteran arms they need to carry this rotation in 2021 and 2022 as the young prospects continue to develop at the MLB level.
And if Minor does find that 2019 Rangers form in Kansas City…well, not only will the Royals rotation and pitching staff as a whole improve, but the Royals’ standing should also climb in the American League Central as well.
And that…could open up some interesting roster opportunities after 2021…