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Kansas City Royals: Rotation Review

The Royals have a strong group of starting pitcher prospects. The depth is a luxury, but which 5 pitchers of the group will stick?

Detroit Lions running back, D'Andre Swift has a lofty goal for himself that seems somewhat attainable if he can play in all 17 games.

Last week we reviewed seven players to watch for the Royals this spring. The next installment of our Royals Spring Training Primer involves reviewing the Royals Major League rotation options. The Royals have built a strong stable of arms over the past 3 seasons. Many of these young arms figure to impact the major league rotation in 2022. The Royals 2018 Draft class already made history last season, becoming the first draft class in MLB History to feature at least 5 pitchers selected in the same draft class to make starts in the same season for the club that drafted them.

Not only will those young arms, many former top 100 prospects, factor into the Royals’ rotation this season. Other veterans and mainstays will lay their claim to a rotation spot as well. The Royals acquired Zack Greinke on a one-year contract this offseason. They’ve also reportedly been in contact with the Athletics regarding a potential Frankie Montas trade, with no progress reported. Regardless of any further additions, the Royals have plenty of options to choose from in the rotation this season. Here are the options:

Carlos Hernandez

A player often forgotten when discussing the Royals elite group of young pitchers is quite possibly the best of the bunch. Hernandez, still just 25 years old, signed with the Royals as an international free agent in 2016 out of Venezuela. Last season for Kansas City, Hernandez made 11 starts and pitched 85.2 innings. He was outstanding, posting a 3.68 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 41 walks. Over the second half after becoming a full-time starter, Hernandez was even better. After July 18, he posted a 5-2 record over 64 innings with a 3.23 ERA. Hernandez features a plus fastball, hitting upper 90s and triple digits at times. Command has been an issue for him in the past, as shown in his mediocre walk totals.

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Zack Greinke

The Royals signed Greinke to a one-year, $13 million contract in March of this year. One deciding factor in his decision to sign with Kansas City was their commitment not to limit his workload or innings. This is pretty telling that the Royals intend to give Greinke every chance to start full-time for the club this season. Last year, Greinke saw a major velocity dip. No longer the power strikeout pitcher he once was, Greinke now profiles as a pitch-to-contact pitcher. This should play nicely in the confines of Kauffman Stadium. The Royals’ elite defense will help as well.

Brady Singer

The first of the 2018 draft class to break into the major leagues was Brady Singer in 2020. Early results have been very up and down. In the first 39 starts of his career, he’s logged a 9-15 record with a 4.62 ERA. Much has been made of Singer’s pitch repertoire. Primarily a 2-pitch pitcher, Singer has struggled to utilize his changeup in the past two seasons. The changeup will help Singer attack lefties more effectively and reduce his platoon split. Currently, left-handed batters are walking twice as much and hitting twice as many home runs as righties against Singer. A telling sign this spring in Singer’s ability to stick in the rotation will be his ability to use his third pitch.

Kris Bubic

Kris Bubic burst onto the scene after being drafted by the Royals in 2018 out of Stanford. In 2019, Bubic pitched 149 innings and led the entire minor leagues with 185 strikeouts. Results in the major leagues have been much less effective. Bubic has been outstanding in bursts, but over 30 career starts he has posted a 4.40 ERA with 163 strikeouts and 81 walks in his first career 180 innings. This offseason, Bubic added a slider to his arsenal. This slider should help Bubic when facing lefties. Over his career, lefties have posted an OPS 100 points higher than right-handed batters. Early returns in spring have been positive on the lefty’s new slider. This will be a deciding factor in his ability to stick in this year’s rotation.

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Daniel Lynch

Daniel Lynch peaked the highest of all Royals’ 2018 pitchers on the MLB Top 100 Prospect list. He features a full five-pitch arsenal including a four-seamer, sinker, changeup, slider, and curveball. Lynch is an elite competitor both mentally and physically. The early results weren’t great last season. Lynch’s first stint in the major leagues lasted just 3 starts. He went 0-2 over 8 innings with a 15.75 ERA. Lynch was sent back to Omaha with reports that he was tipping his pitches in Kansas City. Lynch returned to Kansas City on July 25th where he finished the season on the Major League roster. Results were much improved. He pitched 12 starts after returning from Omaha to the tune of a 4.35 ERA over 60 innings. He struck out 48 batters and walked 26. In the month of August alone, Lynch started 5 contests, striking out 27 batters over 26 innings and walking just 15. His ERA over that span was 2.39. Lynch is a name to watch who could land at the top of the rotation by the season’s end.

Jackson Kowar

Jackson Kowar, much like Daniel Lynch, is a curious case. Kowar dominated the competition in Omaha last season before his callup to Kansas City but then struggled once he arrived in the Majors. Over 16 minor league starts last season, Kowar logged a 3.46 ERA over 80 innings with 115 strikeouts. In Kansas City, he went 0-6 over 30 innings with an ERA of 11.27. Kowar has focused this offseason on improvements and will hope to stick in the big league rotation this season. Kowar features an elite-level changeup but couldn’t throw it for strikes last season. Major League batters were learning to just let the pitch go because it wouldn’t stick in the zone. That will be a focus for him this spring as he fights to earn his spot in the rotation in 2022.

Brad Keller

Keller was the Royals opening day starter in 2021. After being selected in the Rule 5 draft, the Royals traded for Keller prior to the 2018 season. From 2018 to 2020, Keller started 57 games and pitched 360 innings for the Royals. He struck out 253 batters with a 3.50 ERA. Those results were much different for Keller in 2021. He struggled early, finishing the season with a 5.39 ERA over 26 starts. Keller was hit hard by lineups early in the season but seemed to put things back in order over the back half of the season. From July 4 to August 26, Keller pitched 9 starts with a 3.42 ERA. Keller went on the shelf with a lat-strain that ended his 2021 season early. It’s unsure if Keller will earn another Opening Day start in 2022, but he will certainly hope to continue the promising results that he finished last season with.

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Jon Heasley

Heasley was an under-the-radar option for the Royals from the 2018 draft class. Heasley was picked in the 13th round that year and received a somewhat surprising late-season call-up in 2021. He made just one start so the results aren’t worth taking to the bank. However, in AA Northwest Arkansas he pitched 105 innings over 21 starts with a 3.33 ERA. His peripherals were very strong with 120 strikeouts and just 34 walks. The Royals will without a doubt give him a chance to stake his claim to the rotation, but with so many names joshing for a place, it’s possible he settles in as a long-reliever and spot-start option.

Angel Zerpa

Zerpa is another unheralded starting option for the Royals in 2022. He, like Heasley, earned just 1 start in 2021. In his one start, he went 5 scoreless innings with 4 strikeouts and 1 walk. In the minors last season, Zerpa skyrocketed through three levels, pitching at High-A, AA, and AAA last season alone. Across all three levels, Zerpa posted a 4.58 ERA over 22 minor-league starts with 108 strikeouts over 88 innings. When promoting young pitching, the Royals have shown they put stock in peripheral stats. Pitchers with strong SO/9 totals have found their way to the major leagues more quickly, as seen with Zerpa and Bubic. Zerpa started the Royals’ third spring training contest this spring and pitched two perfect innings with one strikeout. He’s a dark-horse candidate to make the rotation out of spring training in 2022.

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Written By

I'm a life-long Chiefs and Royals fan from Liberty, MO. I've since moved to Seattle, WA. I love the west coast life with my wife, two beautiful children, a german shepherd, and chihuahua. It's my pleasure to grow Stadium Rant as Director of Content, but I still love writing as well about what topics I'm passionate about.

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