Written by: Michael Schneider (@mikecschneider)
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The story about the 2018 Royals draft begins with the 2017 season.
Heading into 2017, it was clear the Royals were arriving at the end of an era. Six years earlier, according to Baseball America, the Royals had nine prospects in the top hundred including a record setting five in the top twenty. Those prospects included Eric Hosmer (8), Mike Moustakas (9), Wil Myers (10), John Lamb (18), Mike Montgomery (19), Christian Colon (51), Danny Duffy (68), Jake Odorizzi (69) and Chris Dwyer (83). This did not include other, young talent that was in the Royals organization in 2011 such as Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, Billy Butler, Alcides Escobar, Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera and Yordano Ventura.
This group would grow to form the bulk of the team that were in two consecutive World Series and the world champions in 2015. However, the small markets Royals were unlikely to be able to afford to re-sign Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain or Mike Moustakas, who were going to be free agents after the 2017. The Royals had signed Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez to big contracts extensions before the 2016 season, and Gordon had struggled since the contact was signed.
The Royals got off to a 10-20 start in 2017, and from that point the big question was whether or not the Royals be sellers at the trade deadline. The Royals did improve and got to .500 for the first time on June 25th. The Royals were 45-47 on July 18th with the trade deadline less than two weeks away when they suddenly won nine in a row. The team eventually decided to become buyers, acquiring Melky Cabrera from the White Sox and Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter from the Padres. The Royals were two games behind the division leading Cleveland Indians as of trade deadline on July 31st.
The brief stretch right before the trade deadline was really the only point where the Royals were truly in the race, and it cost them a chance to acquire prospects for impending free agents. The Royals went 10-18 in August, which sunk their playoff chances. They ended up finishing 80-82, twenty-two games behind the American League Central Champion Indians, who won twenty two games in a row beginning on August 24th. The Royals also finished five games behind the Minnesota Twins for the second wild card.
2017 Royals Aftermath
After the 2017 season, the Royals lost Cain, Hosmer and eighteen game winner Jason Vargas to free agency. The free agent market for Moustakas was surprisingly light and the Royals ended up resigning him to a one-year contract.
Heading into 2018, not only were the Royals in full scale rebuilding mode, but their farm system was ranked the worst in baseball by minorleaguebaseball.com.
However, the organization possessed five of the first fifty-eight picks in the major league draft. Their first round pick was the eighteenth pick in the draft. They received the thirty third pick as compensation for losing Cain to free agency and the thirty fourth pick as compensation for losing Hosmer. The Royals received the fortieth pick as a competitive balance pick and their regular second round pick was the fifty eighth overall selection. As a result of having so many draft picks, the Royals had the largest bonus pool of any team ($12,781,900).
It was expected that with so many picks, the Royals would go young with high upside players. In FanGraphs mock draft on June 1, 2018, they projected the Royals to pick five high school players (two pitchers and three position players) with their top five picks. However, Kansas City opted to go in another direction, using their first five draft picks on college pitchers. The first four picks were pitchers from elite college baseball programs.
I took a deep dive into the Royals college pitchers from the 2018 draft and how they are progressing early in their professional careers. Let’s take a look.
Brady Singer: 1st round, 18th pick overall
6’5” 210 lbs., RHP, DOB: 8-4-96
For someone that was just drafted in 2018, Singer has been on the prospect radar for a long time.
Singer was originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015 in the 2nd round (56th overall) out of Eustis High School in Florida. Singer did not sign with the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays amateur scouting director Brian Parker said it “wasn’t a financial decision” but did not provide additional details. John Manuel, then of Baseball America tweeted that there was a medical concern, but no specifics were provided. Singer has never missed significant time with an injury.
Singer attended college at University of Florida. As a freshman, he was behind AJ Puk, Dane Dunning, Logan Shore and Alex Faedo on a loaded pitching staff. However, that summer, Singer was outstanding in the Cape Cod League.
As sophomore in 2017, Singer joined the started rotation and established himself as one of the best pitchers in the SEC. Singer was especially strong in the College World Series. He made two starts in the CWS, winning both games while striking out 21 batters in 14 innings and making the CWS All-tournament team as Florida won their first national championship.
After the 2017 season, Singer was considered the top candidate to be the first pick in the 2018 MLB draft by both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. In an article on MLB Pipeline on December 5, 2018, Singer was projected to be the top pick in the draft and Jim Callis stated “He has everything teams look for in a college pitcher: stuff, polish, makeup and a track record of excelling on the biggest stages (College World Series, Cape Cod League)”.
Singer had an outstanding Junior season at Florida with 0.94 WHIP, .203 BAA and 2.55 ERA. He won College Player of Year accolades from Baseball America, D1baseball.com and was the recipient of the Dick Howser Trophy (the college baseball version of the Heisman trophy).
Despite his strong performance, Singer’s draft stock did drop some. However, in FanGraph’s final mock draft on June 1, 2018, he was still projected to be the fourth pick in the draft. On MLB’s Pipeline’s top prospect listing for the draft, the right-hander was listed second. It was very surprising that he was still available when the Royals selected at eighteen. The Royals signed Singer for $4.25 million, above the $3,349,300 slot amount.
Because Singer had thrown a full season at Florida, he did not pitch in any games for the Royals in 2018. He made his pro debut with the Wilmington Blue Rocks in the Carolina League in 2019. The right-hander made ten starts for Wilmington going 57.2 innings. He had a 1.87 ERA with a 2.81 FIP striking out 23.3% and only walking 5.7% while having a ground ball percentage of 53.7%.
The 23-year-old got promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas on May 30th. He had a few rough early outings but really hit his stride in July and August. In Singer’s last ten starts of the year, he pitched 62 innings allowing only 46 hits, while striking out 26.2% and walking 6.4% of batters. To have success in Double-A in his first season as a pro is quite an achievement.
I watched Singer start against Amarillo (Padres) on July 28th and against Frisco (Rangers) on his final game of the season on August 31st. I was not overly high on Singer prior to watching these games but came away extremely impressed. The right-hander is not going to wow anyone with triple digit velocity or many double-digit strikeout performances. However, he is close to being major league ready and does not any weaknesses.
Singer has a short efficient repeatable three quarters arm angle delivery from the first base side of the rubber. The right-hander has a sinking fastball that reaches the mid-nineties. His fly ball percentage of 21.7% was among the lowest in any level in 2019. The slider is a plus pitch which generates a lot of swing and miss. As a pro, Singer began throwing the change up more consistently than he did in college and was having a lot of success with it by the end of the year. He has above average command and has a bulldog mentality on the mound.
Singer has been successful and durable the last three years. He will be twenty-four in August. The Royals are rebuilding and have little reason to rush a prospect to the majors. However, with or without a baseball season in 2020, I would expect the right-hander to be in majors in 2021. He is too advanced to be in the minors much longer.
With a prospect like Singer that has been on the radar for several years, there is fatigue in the prospect community. Evaluators tend to get excited about the next new exciting prospect. He may not be an ace, but if he stays healthy, there is a good chance for the 23-year-old to be a mid-rotation starter that is the leader of a young pitching staff. If the change up continues to improve and emerges as a plus pitch, Singer has a chance to be a solid number two starter.
Jackson Kowar: 1st Round, 33rd overall pick
6’5” 180 lbs., RHP, DOB: 10-4-96
Kowar was ranked 99th in Baseball America’s 2015 top-500 MLB draft prospects ($) out of high school. However, he was a good student and was expected to attend Clemson where he has committed as a high school Sophomore. Despite Clemson firing their longtime coach a week before the 2015 MLB draft, the right-hander was still not drafted until the 40th round by Detroit Tigers and did not sign. He also had surgery for an issue with his lungs as a high school senior.
Kowar was released from his commitment to Clemson and ended up at Florida, which lost several of its players from the incoming freshman class to the MLB draft. There, he became roommates with some random guy named Brady Singer.
The right-hander got off to good start his freshman year and was a regular mid-week starter. However, he had a reoccurrence of his lung issue in late April and had surgery on the other lung which caused him to miss the remainder of the year.
For his sophomore season, Kowar came back healthy and won twelve games losing only one game for the national champion, Florida Gators. However, his ERA (4.08), WHIP (1.48) and his strikeouts per nine innings (7.00) did not standout.
As a junior, Kowar’s 10-5 record was not as good as strong as his record as a Sophomore, but he showed significant improvement. The right-hander’s ERA was 3.04 with a 1.28 WHIP and 9.21 strikeouts per nine innings. He was listed fifteenth on MLB Pipeline’s top prospect listing for the draft. On FanGraph’s June 1st mock draft, he was projected to be the 22nd pick by the Colorado Rockies. After the Royals selected him with the 33rd pick, Kowar signed for $2,147,500 slightly above the slot of $2,118,000.
In 2018, Kowar made eleven abbreviated starts for the Sally League champion, Lexington Legends. The right-hander excelled in the two playoff starts going five innings in each game and only allowing one run on seven hits with one walk and ten strikeouts.
In 2019, Kowar began the year with the Wilmington Blue Rocks in the Carolina League. In his first start of the year, he threw five innings of no hit ball while striking out six. Overall, the 23-year-old made thirteen starts at high A, pitching 74 innings, allowing 68 hits and 22 walks while striking out 66. He was promoted to Double-A NW Arkansas after appearing in the Carolina League All Star game. In Double-A, Kowar also started thirteen games, pitching almost the same amount of innings as he had in Wilmington. In 74.1 innings, he allowed 73 hits and 21 walks while striking out 78. The right-hander had five starts of at least five innings where he did not allow any runs. It was a very solid first full season as a pro. However, he only put together two strong starts in row once and that was his last start in Wilmington on June 13th and his first start in NW Arkansas on June 22nd.
I watched Kowar’s start on May 29th while still on Wilmington at Fayetteville and his Texas League start at Tulsa on August 3rd.
Like his college teammate Brady Singer, Kowar is a tall, slender right-hander who stands of the edge of the first base of the rubber with a sinking fastball. The latter had a ground ball percentage on 45.2% at Wilmington on 45.9% at NW Arkansas.
The 23-year-old has a simple efficient delivery. Like a lot of pitchers, he typically works fast, but really slows down when he is in trouble. At Wilmington, he tended to lose command for brief stretches.
The right-hander throws a mid-nineties fastball but it is not a huge swing and miss pitch. The change up was his signature pitch at Florida and remains his best pitch. Hitters appear to have difficulty picking up the changeup and it looks like a potential plus pitch.
In college, Kowar threw a slider as his third pitch. As a pro, he’s ditched the slider and is now throwing a breaking ball. At times in 2019 such as in his August 3rd start, the breaking ball looks sharp but in the May 29th start, it was not nearly as effective.
Kowar likely needs another close to full year in the minors to work on consistency, improving his command and refining the breaking ball. He will be twenty-four in October so like many players, not pitching in 2020 is not ideal. However, the right-hander certainly looks like a major league starter eventually with the potential to be a mid-rotation starter, but a fourth starter more likely.
Daniel Lynch: 1st round, 34th overall pick
6’6” 190 lbs., LHP, DOB: 11-17-96
Lynch, out of Douglas Freeman High School in Richmond, was ranked as the 314th best high school prospect in 2015 by Perfect Game. He was a solid commitment to University of Virginia and went undrafted out of high school. At a Perfect Game tournament in July 2015, the southpaw was throwing a fastball between 85 and 88 miles per hour with a 75 mile per hour curveball.
As a freshman, Lynch was mostly a mid-week starter making nine starts and thirteen overall appearances. He had a 5.49 ERA and in 41 innings gave up 44 hits and 15 walks while striking out 37. In 2017 as a sophomore, he was a regular starter and pitched a few big games, but of his fourteen starts, only six were in conference. In 77.1 innings, he only had 45 strikeouts. However, the left-hander pitched much better in the Cape Code League in 2017 (30.1 innings allowing 25 hits, 7 earned runs and only 3 walks while striking out 25) than he did at UVA and established himself as a legitimate prospect.
Lynch clearly had his best year at UVA as a Junior but even then, his stats did not stand out. He was not even third team all-conference. Although there was a significant improvement in his ability to miss bats. His strikeouts per nine innings were 5.24 as a sophomore, but more than doubled to 10.66 as a junior.
UVA had had a successful baseball program for the last decade under Brian O’Connor. However, the only UVA pitcher that has had any success in the majors is Sean Doolittle, who was drafted in 2007 as a first basemen and did not pitch as a pro until 2011.
Lynch signing with the Royal for $1,700,000. The slot value for the 34th pick was $2,066,700.
After signing with the Royals, Lynch had the best stretch of his career with the Lexington Legends in the Sally League. As a pro, he was suddenly throwing the mid to upper nineties after throwing in low nineties in college. Overall, as a pro in 2018 mostly in the Sally League, the left-hander threw a total of 59.1 innings allowing 52 hits, 9 earned runs and 9 walks while striking out 68.
In 2019, Lynch was assigned to Wilmington along with Singer and Kowar to begin the season. After a bit of a rough start, he had a three start stretch at the end of May where he pitched twenty scoreless innings allowing only ten hits and three walks while striking eighteen. In his next start of June 1st, the southpaw left in the second inning with an arm injury. It was determined that there was no structural damage, but the Royals took it slowly with their prized pitching prospect.
Lynch made his first rehab appearance in the AZL on July 20th and finally returned to Wilmington on August 13th. He made four regular season and two playoff starts with Wilmington where he showed that he was fully healthy. Then, he pitched in the Arizona Fall League, where he really impressed scouts.
Heading into 2020, Lynch is a consensus top 100 prospect ranked as high as 13 by Keith Law of the Athletic, 39th by Baseball America, 61 by MLB Pipeline and 95th by Prospects 365. It is striking to read the difference in scouting reports on Lynch from February 2018 by 2080 Baseball where he is described as a “finesse pitcher” whose “best-case ceiling is that of a fifth starter who can soak up back-rotation innings.” To Keith Law’s February 2020 report ($) that “Lynch hit 99 mph in the Fall Stars game in the AFL” and “If it wasn’t for MacKenzie Gore, Lynch might have the best pure stuff of any lefty prospect in the minors.”
Since Lynch missed a good portion of the season and the Wilmington Blue Rocks home games are not on milb.tv, there were a limited selection of his games to watch. The lack of availability of southpaw’s games, made scouting him more difficult than the other Royals pitching prospects from the 2018 draft. I was able to view his third start of the year on April 15 on a cold evening at Winston Salem which included Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal in the opposing line up and Lynch’s May 20th start against Salem.
In the first game at Winston Salem, he gave up four runs in a rough inning, before settling down and retiring the final eleven of twelve batters. Against the Salem Red Sox, the southpaw pitched six shutout innings.
The tall, left-handed Lynch stands on the third base side of the rubber and has a short simple delivery. He’s demonstrative on the mound and frequently does a little hop out of frustration when a pitch does not go his way. He appears to have a good pick off move.
The 23-year-old can effectively spot his fastball to both sides of the plate. During the Salem game, there was no way of telling how hard he throwing. In the Winston Salem outing, the announcer occasionally indicated the velocity of Lynch’s pitches. He was throwing between 93 to 96 MPH early in the season on a cold day.
In both starts, Lynch did not appear to have his off-speed pitches working effectively. I believe this was mostly a case of a small sample size more than an ongoing issue.
Lynch has the most upside of the Royal pitchers from the 2018 draft. He is the hardest thrower and reportedly has strong secondary offerings. However, the only dominant stretch of his career has been in 2018 after he signed with the Royals.
Kris Bubic: 1st round, 40th overall pick
6’3” 220 lbs., LHP, DOB: 8-19-97
Bubic grew up in San Jose and was undrafted out of high school. He was ranked 363rd in Perfect Game’s listing of the top 500 high school prospects.
At Stanford Bubic showing significant improvement in each of his three seasons.
Early in Bubic’s freshman year he made a couple of impressive starts against a Texas and Vanderbilt. Bubic made a total of twenty-one appearances including six starts. He had an impressive 3.26 ERA, but his WHIP was 1.53 due to allowing 4.98 walks per nine innings.
As a Sophomore, Bubic was Stanford’s best starter. In fifteen starts, Bubic pitched 90.1 innings allowing 79 hits (just two homers) and 31 walks while striking out 96. After the college season, Bubic played in the Cape Cod League, where he made six strong starts and was named Cape Cod League Pitcher of the Year.
Bubic was even better at Junior at Stanford. In his first six starts, the left-hander pitched 37.2 innings allowing only 4 earned runs, 19 hits and 10 walks (0.77 WHIP). For the season in fifteen starts, he pitched 86 innings allowing only 60 hits and 32 hits while striking out 101. Bubic was All-PAC 12 and on several third team All-American lists.
The Royals made Bubic their fourth draft pick and fortieth overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft. He signed for $1,597,000 which was $189,300 underslot.
While Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch were experiencing success in full season ball with the Lexington Legends, Bubic spent the remainder of 2018 with Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League. The left-hander had two scoreless five innings starts where he struck out ten batters in each game. However, he was inconsistent and seemed to tire at the end of the season. Bubic walked nine batters in only eight innings in his final two starts.
The southpaw had a fantastic 2019 season. He was likely a level below where he belonged all year. Bubic began the year with nine dominant starts for Lexington in the Sally League. In 47.2 innings, he only allowed 27 hits and 15 walks while striking out 41% of batters.
Bubic was promoted to Wilmington in the Carolina League on May 21st. He struggled in two of his four starts, but in his last fifteen starts including two in the playoffs, the southpaw pitched 92.2 innings allowing 60 hits (one homer) and 21 walks while striking out 28%.
Bubic has a unique delivery. As he starts his delivery, his arm goes down extremely low before he raises it and throws overhand. It seems to create a good amount of deception for batters and Bubic can consistently repeat his delivery.
Bubic has a three pitch mix with a fastball, curveball and changeup. The fastball is only in the low nineties, but the changeup has been the left-hander’s best offering to this point of his career.
I watched Bubic’s start for Lexington against the Greenville Drive on April 28th which did not have a centerfield camera and his August 8th start for Wilmington against the Fayetteville Woodpeckers.
It is clear that Bubic was too advanced for the caliber of hitters he faced in 2019. In the games I watched, only a handful of batters were able to hit the ball hard against him. Like most pitchers in the minors, the 22-year-old still has some work to do on his command, but he clearly made significant progress in 2019.
It is easy to understand that it can be exceedingly difficult to watch a young pitcher with a lively arm who struggles with consistency and project how good the talented hurler will be in the future. It is also true that it is a challenge to project a skilled pitcher like Bubic who dominates the lower minors and figure out whether that will translate to big league success. The change up was a plus plus pitch for Bubic in the Sally and Carolina Leagues, but it remains to be seen if it will be a plus pitch in the majors.
If Bubic stays healthy, he should be a major league starter by 2022. I peg him as a four with a chance to be a three if his command continues to improve.
Jonathan Bowlan: 2nd round, 58th overall
6’6” 262 lbs., RHP, DOB: 12-1-96
Perfect Game ranked Bowlan as the 379th right-handed pitcher in the class of 2015. He was undrafted and went to college at Memphis where his father had starred. The 23-year-old started double digit games for three years in college. While Bowlan’s record was only 2-9 as a junior, what stands out is his walks per nine innings were under two, while his strikeouts were eleven per nine innings.
The Royals selected Bowlan slightly higher than where is was projected to be picked. The slot value for the 58th pick was $1,168,300. He signed an underslot deal for $697,500.
After signing with the Royals, Bowlan was assigned to the Idaho Falls Chukars in the hitter friendly Pioneer League. After a solid start to his pro career in his four games (16 innings allowing 4 earned runs), Bowlan struggled in his last five games (19 innings allowing 23 runs).
In 2019, Bowlan was assigned to Lexington in the Sally League to begin the season. He made thirteen appearances including eleven starts for the Legends. In 69.2 innings, the right-hander allowed 55 hits and just 10 walks (0.93 whip) while striking out 74. He was then promoted to Wilmington on June 23rd.
The highlight of the season for Bowlan was on July 15th when he threw a nine inning no hitter against the Carolina Mudcats. The only baserunner reached on an error and Bowlan only needed 98 pitches while striking out nine. Overall, Bowlan’s results in High-A were similar to the numbers he posted in Low-A. In 76.1 innings for the Blue Rocks, the 23-year-old allowed 66 hits and only walking 13 while striking out 76.
I saw Bowlan live in his second start for Wilmington on June 28th at Frederick and watched his start at Fayetteville on August 7th.
There is nothing overly-fancy about the right-hander. He is a large pitcher that has a simple, repeatable delivery and primarily throws a fastball and slider. He seems to be working on a curveball which he does not throw much.
Bowlan has an effective fastball that reaches the mid-nineties. He can spot the fastball to both sides of the plate and pounds the strike zone.
The slider is also a potential plus pitch. It has a small, but sharp break and is particularly effective against right-handed hitters.
Bowlan is not going to wow anyone, but he has the potential to be an innings eating back end starter. His strength is clearly his ability to throw strikes. His walk percentage of 4% in 2019 was among the best in the minor leagues.
As Bowlan advances, the concern is whether he is going to miss enough bats. Even in the Carolina League at times, batters seem to be able to foul off a lot of pitches especially with two strikes.
If the right-hander can develop a consistent and effective third pitch, he could take a step forward.
Mid Round Promise
Austin Cox: 5th round, 152nd overall
6’4” 185 lbs., LHP, DOB: 3-28-97
Austin Cox was the 160th ranked left-handed pitcher by Perfect Game in the class of 2015. Cox was undrafted out of high school and committed to Mercer. At Mercer, his overall college statistics were mediocre (5.73 ERA with a 1.72 WHIP) due to walking 4.47 batters per nine innings. However, what stood out was his strikeout percentage in his last two years. As a Sophomore, Cox struck out 12.04 batters per nine innings and as a Junior he struck out 12.73 batters per nine innings. Despite the uninspiring statistics, the Royals saw enough in Cox to draft and sign him to a slightly overslot bonus of $447,500.
After signing with the Royals, Cox was assigned to the Burlington Royals in the Appalachian League where he was old for the level. He made nine short starts in 2018 as a pro and struck out 51 batters in 33.1 innings. However, the left-hander still walked 4.05 batters per nine innings.
In 2019, Cox began the year with Lexington in the Sally League which was a big step up in competition from the Appalachian League. In thirteen starts, Cox pitched well (75.1 innings allowing 59 hits and 77 strikeouts), while decreasing his walks per nine innings to 2.63.
Cox was promoted to Wilmington in the Carolina League on June 23rd where he maintained his improved control and solid season (55.1 innings allowing 53 hits and 52 strikeouts with 2.60 walks per nine innings). The southpaw was also outstanding in the playoffs where in two starts he pitched twelve shutout innings.
I watched Cox’s start in the Carolina League playoffs against the Fayetteville Woodpeckers on September 13, 2019 and came away impressed.
He is a southpaw that stands to the third base side of the rubber and has a simple repeatable delivery.
The left-hander’s fastball is in the low to mid-nineties with excellent movement. He has a knack for getting the pitch underneath the batter’s hands and using both sides of the plate.
The curveball is a plus pitch. It is a twelve to six hook that is equally effective against right-handed and left-handed batters.
The slider and change up are still developing and not used often.
When Cox is getting the curveball over, he is difficult to hit. However, when the pitch fails to find the zone, he can struggle.
Cox made significant strides with the Royals organization in 2019. His progress was perhaps the most surprising of the 2018 draft picks. There is still work to do especially in improving the slider and change up and continuing the better control that he exhibited in 2019. However, if he improves as much in 2021 as he did in 2019, the Royals will have another talented pitching prospect that will be close to major league ready.
Zach Haake: 6th round, 182nd overall
6’4” 186 lbs., RHP, DOB: 10-8-96
Haake is from Breese, Illinois, a St Louis suburb. He was ranked as the 611th right-handed pitcher in the class of 2015 by Perfect Game and began his college career at Arkansas State. After struggling as a freshman, the right-hander transferred to a junior college where he had a big year and caught the eyes of baseball scouts with an upper nineties’ fastball. He transferred to University of Kentucky for his junior year with big expectations. However, in 34 innings at Kentucky, the right-hander allowed 32 earned runs and walked 22. The Royals still thought enough of his potential, to draft Haake and sign him to a slightly overslot bonus of $297,500.
After signing with the Royals, Haake recuperated from a flexor strain and focused on improving his mechanics. In 2018 as a pro, he pitched just 9.2 inning in the AZL and then 5.2 inning for Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League. The 23-year-old began 2019 in the Sally League in the same town as he went to school for at University of Kentucky. With Lexington, the then 22-year-old got off to an excellent start in April (26 innings allowing 14 hits and 9 walks while striking out 36). Then, he missed almost two months with shoulder soreness. Upon return, he was not quite as sharp or consistent as he had been at the beginning of the season. Overall, Haake pitched 80 innings allowing just 62 hits but he walked 39 whiling striking out 94. The walks are inflated by a disastrous return from the injury when he walked six in a third of an inning on June 23rd. The injury prevented him from getting promoted to the Carolina League in 2019. However, he finished the year strong, allowing no hits in six innings in a playoff game against Hickory on September 13th.
I watched the right-hander’s final start of the regular season on August 29th against West Virginia. Haake’s name is pronounced like the sport “hockey”. He is a tall right-hander who has a simple motion and works extremely fast. Lexington does not have a centerfield camera which makes it difficult to get a good look at the pitches. However, Haake clearly has a lively arm and when he is on like he was this night, he overmatches Sally League batters. In just five innings and eighteen batters, he had seventeen swinging strikes.
Haake was throwing in the mid-nineties. he also possesses a slider and a changeup that have reportedly have potential. However, there are consistency and command issues that he is still working on.
Despite the injury, Haake still made good progress after little success at the division one level in his season at Arkansas State and Kentucky. The righty is less advanced than the other college pitchers in the Royals 2018 draft class, but he has a lot of talent and has more upside than several of the pitchers that the Royals picked ahead of him. However, there is considerably more reliever risk if he does not improve his consistency.
A College Outfielder
While this article is about the college pitchers that the Royals drafted in 2018, there is a college position player in the Royals draft class that is worth discussing. The Royals third round draft pick in 2018 was Kyle Isbel out of University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). Isbel improved each of his three seasons at UNLV capping his college career with a huge junior season (.357/ .441/.743 with 14 homers in 59 games). After the Royals picked Isbel with the 94th overall selection, they signed Isbel for essentially a slot deal of $592,300.
Isbel kept hitting after signing with the Royals where he split 2018 between Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League and Lexington in the Sally League. In 60 games, he hit .326/.389/.893 with 24 steals after not running much in college.
In 2019, Isbel was assigned to Wilmington in the Carolina League. For the first couple weeks of the season he looked like the second best position player in the Carolina League to Luis Robert. The 23-year-old went on the injured list on April 18th with a hamstring injury and then hurt his wrist in a rehabilitation game. He eventually had surgery to remove his hamate bone in his wrist. When Isbel returned in mid-July, he struggled for the remainder of the year as he adjusted due to the wrist injury and developed bad habits. It is wise to disregard his 2018 statistics.
Isbel turned things around in the Arizona Fall League where he hit .315 /.429 /.438 while being among the leaders in stolen bases and walks. The outfielder continued his impressive play in the abbreviated 2020 spring training. Isbel is a particularly good athlete and he can do a little bit of everything. He covers a tremendous amount of ground in the outfield.
While it premature to declare the Royals draft a success, each of the seven pitchers have had strong starts to their pro careers. Given the volatility of baseball draft picks and pitchers in particular, this is a significant achievement. Four of the pitchers (Lynch, Bowlan, Cox and Haake) have been much better as a pro than they were in college. This shows both exceptional scouting in identifying pitchers with untapped potential and player development skills by quickly translating that into improved skills.
While there will likely be injuries and bumps in the roads, it is entirely possible that the Royals could have a solid future starting pitching rotation made up entirely of pitchers from the 2018 draft. As a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, an organization that has barely drafted and developed any starting pitchers who have had success with the Orioles since Mike Mussina, I find the idea that a team can produce so many quality starting pitchers in a single draft particularly interesting. I look forward to tracking the development of the Royals pitchers from the 2018 draft in the coming years.
Follow P365 Prospect Analyst Michael Schneider on Twitter! @mikecschneider
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Featured image courtesy of the Kansas City Star