Starting pitching is one of the most important pieces of a club. The second might be the bullpen. And you could make a case to switch the order of those two.
Dayton Moore added depth to the starting rotation this winter by signing Mike Minor to a two-year, $18 million contract that includes a club option for 2023 for $13 million. This signing goes along with what Moore has always said. He wants to have depth, so he doesn’t have to rush players to the major leagues.
Another bonus of signing Minor is that if the Royals fall out of contention before the trade deadline, they could trade him to a contending team for prospects. Teams are always looking for pitching. This makes the Minor signing a no-lose situation.
The other veteran in the starting rotation is Danny Duffy. Duffy has been frustrating over his career. He has shown how good he could be at times but has never been consistently great. Duffy went 12-3 in 2016, which earned him the five-year deal he is finishing in 2021. Duffy will be a free agent after the season, and I do not expect him to be back in Kansas City unless he doesn’t get many offers and the young prospects aren’t ready to step in. And that would be a sign of concern with Dayton Moore’s plan.
The other three expected to be in the rotation are part of the next wave of starting pitchers.
Brad Keller has been around for a few years and is really the leader of this staff. He will likely start on opening day. He is in his first arbitration year in 2021. That means that the Royals hold his rights through 2023 if they want. After that, he becomes a free agent. And you can’t look too much into 2020 stats, but Keller had a 2.80 ERA in his nine starts. Is he turning into a true #1 pitcher? That might be a reach, but he is a quality arm in the rotation.
Brady Singer earned a full year of service time in 2020 for a 60-game season. Maybe it was a little foolish for Dayton Moore to blow that season of eligibility, but maybe it was also a brilliant approach. Singer spent the entire season in the major leagues, and it was long enough to get a good feel for the difference in the game, but it didn’t expose him over a six-month season. Now Singer knows what to expect in 2021.
Kris Bubic also saw time in the majors in 2021. He had a 3.96 ERA over ten starts. The Royals really couldn’t have asked for a better season for Bubic. And now he is in the same situation as Singer. He enters 2021 knowing what to expect and understanding that he belongs in the major leagues.
While Singer and Bubic are expected to have two of the five spots in the rotation for the next several years, several others are expected to arrive in Kansas City from the minor leagues in the next year or two. Let’s focus on the top three who the Royals, who the club hopes will round out the rotation heading into 2022.
Daniel Lynch is expected to be the next starting pitcher to arrive in Kansas City. He is the top prospect in the organization, according to Keith Law of The Athletic. Lynch is a 6-7 lefty who can throw 99mph with a good slider and change-up.
Asa Lacy is also a lefty who the Royals really like. Law has him as the number three prospect behind Lynch and Bobby Witt. Lacy was drafted in 2020. Law thought he could have been the top pick in last year’s draft.
Jackson Kowar was a college teammate of Brady Singer at Florida. Kowar is a fastball/changeup pitcher with a delivery that makes it hard on batters to pick up the ball.
If the rotation does not have at least four of Singer, Bubic, Lynch, Lacy, and Kowar by 2023, the Royals will have to dip into free agency to get back to the playoffs. Having all five find success in the major leagues is asking for a lot. And the Royals must continue to focus on starting pitching in the draft. They can also use top pitching prospects to trade for what they need.