The Royals optioned pitchers Tim Hill and Kevin McCarthy to AAA Omaha today, recalling Heath Fillmyer and calling Richard Lovelady up for his first taste of the big leagues. Only four teams have worse team ERAs than the Royals here early in 2019 so they are hoping Lovelady will bring a fresh arm to help the team ERA currently sitting at 6.15.
Lovelady, who just missed my Royals top 10 to start the season, is a lefty reliever who is especially tough on left handed hitters thanks to his very low, nearing side armed, slot with a fastball that can get up to 97 with good run and late sink. He also possesses an above average slider that attacks in at right handed batters and just runs away from lefties, allowing him to be successful against hitters from both sides of the plate.
He is working on developing a change which has been quite inconsistent, but no matter how “poor” it is on a given day it shows plenty of movement, he just doesn’t have consistent movement as sometimes it cuts while other times it fades.
His career ERA in the minors is an impressive 1.99 and he strikes out nearly four batters for every walk he gives up, although it is more control than command. Despite missing the catcher’s mitt more often than you would ideally want, he makes his misses down in the zone, limiting the damage that can be done as he has given up just four home runs in 167.1 pro innings.
If the change becomes a pitch he can utilize on a nightly basis, he could develop into a very good left-handed reliver late in games. If that never does come around to be a pitch he can lean on, the fastball/slider mix will be enough to carry him to success as a middle reliever. I don’t think Lovelady is safe from being optioned back to AAA at some point this year, but I also don’t think it is far fetched to say he will grab the job and become a reliable piece in a Royals bullpen desperately looking for reliability in the late innings.
Before I even got this posted Alex Reyes exhausted his rookie eligibility (needed a single out to do so and pitched an inning on Friday) so I updated my top 150 before it went live. Reyes was at 22 but is now removed making room for Ryan Weathers, giving the Padres two more than any other team with 12 players making the top 150. 15 players on the list open the season in the big leagues, with 14 of those in the top 80 and the Padres and Mariners both starting with two players in the big leagues.
Quick Report: Lee has enough of an arm that many teams gave real consideration to drafting him as a pitcher, but the Royals took him as an outfielder in the third round of the 2016 draft. He has primarily played center through his minor league career and is solid there, but projects to fit best in right long term. At the plate, he possesses an all too rare true two strike approach. With less than two strikes, he has a moderate leg kick that does get down early allowing him to adjust to pitches. With two strikes he simply slides his front foot rather than lifts it to be in a hitting position earlier. With both approaches, his bat is very quick and through the zone with a long follow through. He has solid bat-to-ball skills but the ball really jumps off the bat thanks in large part to a very strong lower half.
Player: Brady Singer
Opening Day Age: 22
2018 Highest Level: DNP
Quick Report: The 2018 draft was full of surprises that saw several very highly rated prospects slip much further than anticipated and the Royals were the beneficiaries of this, grabbing Singer at 18 overall. Everything about Singers delivery screams high arm slot, but ends up delivering out of a low 3/4 that sees the ball released almost below his glove hand causing surprising deception. Add to that the fact he has a two-seam fastball that dips and runs and a four-seam that cuts some and a truly plus breaking that he can vary between a sharp cutter and a long slider, and he really had four plus pitches disguised as two. His change is well behind his other pitches as he didn’t need to use it much to be effective, even in the highly competitive SEC, but many scouts feel it will develop to be at least big league average. He also manages to show very good command giving him the upside of a genuine ace.
Quick Report: A left-handed power bat that can just happen to be a plus defender behind the dish is definitely something to be fond of. I am usually a huge fan of catchers, although I am admittedly a little lower on Melendez than most of the industry. He has excellent footwork and a plus arm, but I am less than thrilled with his glove when receiving the ball. Despite that, he has shown the ability to command a pitching staff and has thrown out better than 41% of would-be base stealers thus far. At the plate, he has power that could become elite for the position, but the dip in his back shoulder sees him swing under the ball too often. His strikeout rate is high, and he will pop out too often to ever really hit for a solid average without real mechanical adjustments. Still, a power hitting catcher that can control the running game and communicate well with the pitching staff is always a commodity that will be in high demand.
Quick Report: Kowar was the Saturday night starter for Florida, behind number one Royals prospect Brady Singer. Now they team up again with the Royals and could potentially be a 1-2 punch in the big leagues before too long. Kowar already has a plus change and his fastball can run up to 97 and sit in the mid-90s. He has a curve that has been inconsistent, although there are real expectations it will work more to the version with good shape and command in time rather than the one that spun too often. He is long and lean, although there isn’t much expectation he will add a lot to his frame. Some are left with concern with a slight short arm 3/4 delivery, but he has shown plus athleticism on and off the mound that suggest he can work through the minor arm slot concerns and be reliable long term.
Quick Report: As prototypical a right fielder as they come, Matias is blessed with rare plus arm and power. He played just 94 games last season (his first in full-season ball) and blasted 31 home runs, but also struck out 131 times and put up just a .231 average. His bat is loud, both literally and figuratively, as he is one of those guys who fits the cliché of the ball simply sounding different off his bat. The bat is a little slow to the zone so there is some question as to how he handles elite arms, but there is also projection left in the body that suggests his power will only improve. He should be a future piece in the middle Royals order and part of one of the better trio of outfield prospects in any system (along with Khalil Lee and another who comes in at number nine on this list).
Quick Report: This is not one of the flashy or toolsy prospects, but instead is one that is “safe” and productive. Nicky looks like a second baseman as he isn’t all that big in stature, but has plenty of range, glove, and arm to play short. He will never hit for much power (30 XBH in 130 games over two levels last year) but he will contribute plenty of contact and sprays the ball all over the field. He walked more than he struck out a year ago, so he can set the table at the top of the order, or be an elite bat in the nine hole of an AL lineup. Lopez should stay with the big league club deep into the Spring, but ultimately return to AAA at the start of the season where he will earn himself a big league debut early in the year.
Quick Report: Pratto is an interesting prospect in the aspect that he doesn’t look or play like a traditional first baseman, but may turn into one of the better ones. He does not possess great size, although there is plenty of projection in his body. He can absolutely pick it at first, and might have the best arm of any first base prospect in the game, although that will rarely be a benefit outside of the ability to back-pick runners as the cutoff man. At the plate he will swing and miss plenty, but he also hits for a solid average. His hands start off low and has a leg kick, but gets the foot back down early and his hands into a good hitting position in plenty of time to do damage. There is a natural loft to his swing and natural power that suggest he will be a 30+ HR guy in time.
Quick Report: The long bodied Lynch has good actions on the mound despite the bit of effort at the very end of his delivery. He has long arms and legs, giving him plenty of extension that is borderline unfair considering he sits in the mid-90s and touches 97 with some regularity. He has a pair of breaking balls to go with an advanced feel for a change, giving him a true four pitch mix that he can throw with command in any count. The arm slot is 3/4 but the fact he is 6’6” still allows him to provide plenty of downhill plane on the fastball. He does not have the upside of the duo of Gators taken ahead of him in the 2018 draft, but he might prove to be the fastest mover of the Royals impressive draft class last June.
Quick Report: In the trio of outfielders in the top ten Royals prospects, Isbel might have the best chance to stick in center. He has solid reads but doesn’t cover a ton of ground. That said, his natural baseball instincts allow him to make plenty of plays in center, and get great jumps while on the bases. There is a ton of movement in his swing, shifting his center of gravity from the middle of his body to his back foot before ending up out on his front foot at the point of contact. This could really cost him in the power department, but his hands still stay well controlled and he has shown a knack to spray the ball all over the field. He struck out a bit more than anticipated when he was promoted to Lexington, but I could see him settling in as a very good two hole hitter in time.
Quick Report: The fifth 2018 draft pick in the top 10 of my Royals list, Bubic is the one with the widest of possible outcomes. He has a very odd delivery, showing the ball well behind his back, which has a lot of lean to it, before getting back upright and throwing out of a high slot. His bread and butter is the fastball/change combo that results in plenty of swing and miss. He also has a curve, although it is well behind the other two pitches. He demonstrates the ability to pound the zone, so there is plenty of reason to believe he can stick as a starter towards the back of a rotation, but there is also enough strikeout potential and deception to think he could be a sneaky option to turn into a late inning reliever.
Friday was a day for me to see two pitchers I have seen flash really well in the past and offered me a chance to reset my opinion on both of them, and some feeling have changed.
Let’s start with Brett Martin of the Texas Rangers. The 6’4” very lanky 190 lbs. lefty who was drafted out of a Tennessee JC (along with staff-mate at the time Brent Honeywell) and started out as the number two starter for the 2014 AZL club.
His high 3/4 arm slot left little run on his fastball this day, something that I have seen plenty of in previous outings. He worked between 89-92 and it was very flat. His curve was impressive, coming in repetitively at 80 MPH with a 2-8 break and a big bump in the middle of it. His change sat between 80-82 and showed some late life, but not as much as I have seen in the past.
On the day, Martin did not look like the future number four or five I have seen him flash in the past. It was an intra-squad game in the middle of spring, so the adrenaline wasn’t flowing quite like a live game, but I am not used to seeing him dip below 90 on the gun and has regularly sat 93 with life. I have also seen games where the change dips at the end with the same arm slot as the fastball. On those days, he is a good number four starter potential, on days like Friday, he is a AAA arm. In the end I see him as a fringe-rotation guy but enough stuff to stick.
Another guy I got to see was Royals lefty Sam Selman. Selman was a second round pick out of Vanderbilt back in 2012 who is heading into his age 27 season. I first saw him as he transitioned from starter to reliever, and he still has a starter’s repertoire, but without the elite reliever stuff. His bent arm 3/4 delivery leaves his arm in a touch to read slot, that allows his fastball to play up. It was coming in between 90-92 with late run back arm side after heavy cross body plane despite a relatively level release point. He mixed in his change at 80-81 where his arm slows just a touch making his early changeups easier to read, but the arm caught up later in the inning. He showed two versions of a breaking ball, one at 79-80 that had a flat plane but darted in at righties late. He also threw one at 87 that had the depth of a full slider and was by far his best pitch of the day, but I only saw it once.
Selman has outgrown real prospect status that he once held, and is really just a 6th or 7th inning guy at best, but he has the chances to be one who does get a taste of big league action this year while likely ending up as one of those relievers that wears out his options and finds himself on the waiver wire many times in his career as he will bounce between AAA and the last man in a bullpen for a number of years.