Daniel Lynch and Asa Lacy are the No. 2 and 3 prospects, respectively, in the “21 in 21” prospect watch.
If Royals fans look at most Royals prospect lists going into 2021, left handed pitchers Daniel Lynch and Asa Lacy are the top two Royals pitchers as well as prospects overall behind shortstop Bobby Witt, Jr. According to MLB Pipeline, Lacy is rated as the No. 2 prospect, and Lynch follows him at No. 3. According to Baseball America, Lynch takes the No. 2 spot, while Lacy follows him at No. 3. Honestly, check any ranking now on the internet, and the two names flip flop between the No. 2 and No. 3 position depending on a prospect ranking’s preference (Lacy may have the higher ceiling, but Lynch has a Minor League track record, unlike Lacy who has not pitch professionally yet).
Lynch and Lacy are similar on the surface: both are big left-handed arms (Lynch is six-feet, six inches tall; Lacy is 6-feet, four inches), and both are polished arms who were drafted out of college. Lynch has less of a college pedigree in comparison to Lacy. In his final season at Virginia, Lynch posted a 4-4 record, 3.96 ERA, and 4.38 K/BB ratio in 13 starts with the Cavaliers. As for Lacy, while his 2020 season was shortened, he was posting insane metrics with the Aggies. In 4 starts at Texas A&M in 2020, Lacy had a 3-0 record with a 0.75 ERA and a 5.75 K/BB ratio (highlighted by 17.3 K/9). Furthermore, 2020 wasn’t Lacy’s lone sterling campaign, as he was tabbed as a Top-5 pick after a solid 2019 pitching in the SEC, arguably the best conference in college baseball. In 15 starts and 88.2 IP, Lacy posted a 2.13 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and a 3.02 K/BB ratio, with the latter amplified by a 13.2 K/9.
When it comes to college history, Lacy’s eye popping strikeout ability, and his higher level of competition (SEC is much better than the ACC) puts the 2020 first round pick over the 2018 late first-rounder. However, Lynch has only gotten better as a professional, as he has put his shaky final college season, and Virginia “stigma” (Cavaliers pitchers have a questionable history, as evidenced by former No. 2 overall pick Danny Hultzen) in the rear view mirror. Lynch particularly excelled in 2019 in High-A Wilmington as he posted a 3.22 ERA and 3.35 K/BB ratio in 15 starts and 78.1 IP with the Blue Rocks. Lynch most likely would have earned a call up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2019, much like fellow 2018 draft picks Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, had he not missed some time due to injury. However, even though health factors prevented him from making the leap to the next level in 2019, he did further boost his prospect stock in the Arizona Fall League in 2019, as he posted 3.86 ERA and struck out 19 batters and only walked four in 14 innings of work in Surprise.
Even though Lynch was the third pitcher selected by the Royals in the 2018 MLB Draft (behind Singer and Kowar), there’s no question that he may be the most highly rated by MLB scouts outside the Royals fanbase. In a profile on Lynch by the Royals’ Alec Lewis, Athletic prospect expert Keith Law rated Lynch as the Royals’ best prospect, which included him rating Lynch over Witt (Law rated Lynch No. 13 and Witt No. 47 in his Top-100), which is crazy to think about. Here’s what was said about Lynch in Lewis’ piece:
Watching Lynch navigate his way through opposing lineups in the Arizona Fall League, where Lynch was named an All-Star starter, scouts were impressed. So was The Athletic’s Keith Law.
“If it wasn’t for Padres prospect MacKenzie Gore,” Law wrote in February, “Lynch might have the best pure stuff of any lefty prospect in the minors.”“‘I’m ready’: Daniel Lynch talks about the 2020 season and how he improved” by Alec Lewis; The Athletic
Lynch also impressed in Spring Training as well in his work in Summer Camp and at the Alternate Site in 2020. Even though he did not earn a call up to the Major Leagues last year, it seems likely that he will get a shot at some point in 2021, even with the free agent additions of Mike Minor and possible Ervin Santana this off-season. Furthermore, there is likable demeanor to Lynch, and he may remind fans of a young Danny Duffy, as evidenced in this video interview from Spring Training:
Lynch may be the next big Royals pitching prospect to debut in 2021, and his performance this Spring will be worth paying attention to, especially if the Royals may be serious about employing a six-man rotation to begin 2021. However, while Lacy has yet to pitch against Minor League competition, the former Aggies pitcher has moved quickly in the ranks in the Royals system, as he eventually made his way toward the Alternate Site to get some work in at the end of the year. In a Recent Royals Roundtable talk on Fox Sports Kansas City, Rex Hudler hyped Lacy as someone who could move quicker than expected in the Royals system in 2021:
And one can understand where Hud is coming from, especially if one catches some of his highlights from last year, where he made college hitters look absolutely silly at the plate:
It seems likely that both Lynch and Lacy will start the year in Double-A Northwest Arkansas (if Lynch does not make the 26-man roster this Spring), as even Roster Resource projects them to be the Naturals’ No. 1 and 2 starters to begin 2021. The move makes sense, as Double-A tends to be the best measurement for pitching prospects (there tends to be less “career” Minor Leaguers in Double-A in comparison to Triple-A), and the jump from Double-A to the Majors is not an unreasonable feat, either (though Kris Bubic did make the jump from High-A to the Majors from 2019 to 2020).
However, while the future seems to be promising for Lynch, Lacy, and the future of the Royals starting pitching rotation beyond 2021, it’s hard to think about this prospect duo as a Royals fan without getting flashbacks to 2011, when the Royals had one of the best farm systems in the game.
And it’s hard to think about Lynch and Lacy without seeing the “ghosts” of Mike Montgomery and John Lamb.
Now Montgomery and Lamb are very different pitchers from Lynch and Lacy in terms of profile. Lynch and Lacy were both college arms who are already pretty well-developed, and are expected to move quickly next year in the farm system. Montgomery and Lamb, on the other hand, were both drafted out of high school, and in addition to being arms that needed a lot of “development”, they also carried considerable risk, which is typical for any high school prep pitcher breaking into professional ball.
However, in 2011, much like Lynch and Lacy, Monty and Lamb were not only two of the top pitching prospects in the Royals system, but they were both big left-handed arms who were projected to be anchors of the Royals rotation for a considerable time. Baseball America ranked Lamb fourth and Monty fifth overall, behind Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers, and Mike Moustakas, with the latter three all becoming MLB regulars. Minor League Ball writer John Sickels ranked Monty fifth and Lamb sixth, and actually rated Duffy ahead of both, which actually was a correct move on Sickels’ end. Here is what Sickels said about both Monty and Lamb in his own Royals Top 20 prospect rankings back in 2011:
5) Michael Montgomery, LHP, Grade B+: Worried a bit about future of his elbow, but I moved him ahead of Lamb because I do think his ultimate upside is a bit higher.
6) John Lamb, LHP, Grade B+: Slippage in Double-A keeps him from A- at this time, but an outstanding prospect.“Kansas City Royals Top 20 Prospects for 2011” by John Sickels; Minor League Ball
Despite their lofty prospect rankings, neither did much at the MLB level, and both were eventually traded by Moore to acquire major pieces that aided their World Series runs in 2014 and 2015. Monty was a key piece with Myers and Odorizzi in the James Shields/Wade Davis deal with Tampa Bay in December of 2012. As for Lamb, he was packaged along with former first round pick Brandon Finnegan in 2015 in a trade for Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto.
Of the two, Monty proved to be the better MLB pitcher. Monty found a decent career as a late innings reliever for the Chicago Cubs during their 2016 World Series title season. In that 2016 season, Monty posted a 2.82 ERA after coming over mid-season from Seattle in a trade. After three seasons roughly in the North Side of Chicago, and posting a 3.70 ERA in 320 innings of work as a swing man, Monty came back to Kansas City to pitch as a starter in 2019 for the Royals. Monty did decently in his first half-season in Kansas City, posting a 4.64 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 13 starts and 64 innings of work. However, he hurt himself during his first start in 2020, and he only made two more relief appearances for the remainder of the year, totaling 5.1 innings overall. Hence, with the emergence of Singer and Bubic, it was not surprising that the Royals non-tendered him this off-season.
As for Lamb, his MLB story is a lot more brief. He made 24 starts for the Reds after being traded by the Royals, but he struggled with injury and effectiveness during his time in Cincinnati. He accumulated 119.2 innings in two seasons with the Reds in 2015 and 2016, and in that duration, he posted a 6.17 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. He showed some potential, especially with his ability to strike batters out and limit walks, as he posted a 2.32 K/BB ratio in Cincinnati. However, his inability to limit hits and the long ball prevented him from finding any kind of lasting success.
Lamb was let go after the 2016 season, and ended up finding a home in Anaheim with the Angels in 2017. However, he missed pretty much all of the year due to recovery from back surgery, as well as a suspension for testing positive for PEDs that cost him 50 games. When he did come back to the Majors in 2018 with the Angels, he once again flashed a decent K/BB ratio (2.75). That being said, he allowed 15 hits and 10 runs in 10 innings of work, and he was let go by the Angels after only three starts.
Lamb unfortunately has failed to catch onto a Major League club since.
In no way am I saying that Lynch and Lacy are going to be the next Monty and Lamb. As said before, Monty and Lamb were high-risk high school draft selections. The Royals have seemingly gone away from that route in recent drafts, preferring more developed college arms, such as Lynch and Lacy, over high school arms who carry upside, but often fail to live up to their draft hype. Monty and Lamb are far from the only high school arms who have burned out in the Royals system. 2015 first round pick Ashe Russell and even to an extent Foster Griffin and Scott Blewett, are just a few examples of early round high school pitchers who have struggled in various aspects in the Minor Leagues.
That being said, it’s hard for any passionate Royals fan to not think of 2011 and Monty and Lamb when it comes to projecting the future. Yes, Duffy ended up being a great arm, and Hosmer and Moose lived up their promise and became important Royals during those 2012-2017 seasons. It is possible that Lynch and Lacy could not just live up to that Duffy model, but perhaps surpass it, and make the Royals pitching rotation and system one that is truly envied by other Major League clubs for years to come. On the other hand, Monty and Lamb carried great promise too, and they failed to do anything significant in Kansas City. Both those tales should be cautionary examples for Royals fans. After all, there are no sure things in professional baseball, especially when it comes to pitchers.
If I’m a betting man, I would put a lot of money on Lynch and Lacy surpassing the MLB careers of Monty and Lamb. Scouting and player development, especially in the Royals system, has just gotten better in the past decade. Players like Monty and Lamb would be seen a lot more dubiously now by scouts and prospect experts, and if the Royals system was structured back then as it is now, it is possible that Dayton Moore and his front office team would have passed up on those two and gone a different route in their respective drafts.
And yet, being a Royals fan can be difficult, and ghosts can haunt for a long time, especially in this rebuilding process, as the Royals hope to take the next step in the Central and American League in general in 2021.
Until Lynch and Lacy put it together and actually produce on the mound in the Majors, much like Singer and Bubic in 2020, it will be hard to shake for me, and perhaps other Royals fans, the haunting of Monty and Lamb for the time being .