In the older days, teams often let pitchers develop at the major league level in their first season from the bullpen prior to transferring them into a starting role. This practice has lessened more and more through the years with the worries of service time for small market teams and limited time with quality starting pitching. The Royals though, may have changed that mentality in house as long as they have an outstanding pitching coach like Dave Eiland on staff.
The Royals were rewarded with the success of Danny Duffy last season and gave lefty Matt Strahm an introduction in the bullpen despite his likely future coming from a starting role. That move could pay off, particularly with the recent loss of Yordano Ventura, and could force the Royals hand and push the lefty into the rotation to begin the year.
With the move of Strahm from the bullpen, would there be a starting pitcher from the minors who might profile in the bullpen to get his feet wet in preparation for a future starting role?
One pitcher who I had never looked at in this role prior, but suddenly am intrigued by, is 2011 draftee, Jake Junis. The right-handed pitcher has been on a slow development path in the Royals organization, starting or piggybacking in all 100 appearances of his minor league career. The development has been slow, but as a pitcher from a cold weather area like Rock Falls, IL, that shouldn’t be all that surprising. The biggest thing for Junis is that the pitches have come forward over that time and he’s nearly ready to compete for a starting spot towards the back end of a rotation with just some fine tuning needed in his change up to put him in that spot.
To this point in his career, Junis has shown very good control, walking just 64 in 308.2 innings over the past two seasons. He does this with a solid 91-94 mph fastball from the starting role and a above average low 80’s curveball that combine with his other two pitches to earn nearly 8 SO/9 during those past two seasons. Would those two solid pitches tick up enough to become a dynamic piece in the pen?
In my opinion, Junis with his broad shoulders and strong 225 lbs. body could easily tick his fastball into the 96-97 mph range in a one-inning role while maintaining the hard bite on his curveball that he’s able to dirt and move in and out to earn swings and misses. That curve was rated as the best curveball in the system which is saying something, considering Josh Staumont’s curve is rated as a future plus pitch also.
It’s Jake’s ability to mix speeds in the low 80’s to mid 70’s with his curve, while manipulating it to perform like his slider at times with hard darting movement and controlling it to different quadrants of the zone that allow it to play up and well off of his fastball. Those two pitches, combined with small mixing of his change up and slider, could allow him to help the major league pen in a sixth and seventh inning spot. Pitching out of the pen would also allow he and Eiland to refine things with other pitches to prepare him for a starting spot either towards the end of ’17 or the beginning of 2018.
A couple of the Royals best developed starters in the past decade, Zack Greinke and Duffy, required stints in the bullpen to refine things before settling more comfortably in the rotation. Working things in an opposite direction for some like Strahm and Junis could help iron out those wrinkles prior to fitting into rotation spots further down the road for the Royals.
Adding to the Farm
MLB announced the draft slot values for the upcoming 2017 MLB draft on Thursday. The Royals with the 14th overall pick will also have the 14th largest draft pool, registering in at $7,691,500 not including any allowed overages. Their pick at the 14th slot has been given a $3,549,800 value while their 52nd pick is worth $1,233,900. The last player the Royals gave $3.5m to in the draft was Sean Manaea who they picked 34th overall in the 2013 draft.
The Royals are in their second and final year of a international bonus pool penalty in which they are unable to spend over $300k on any individual player, meaning that their $5.75m value there is likely best used in trades.