After a pair of six inning, one run starts with eight strikeouts, NW Arkansas Naturals right-handed starting pitcher Zach Lovvorn, is off to an outstanding start to the 2017 season. It’s early, but we saw recently called up pitcher Jake Junis take the next step at Double-A last season, propelling himself forward in the organization. Could Lovvorn be taking that next step? Before we go too far ahead though, let’s take a look at what we said prior and where Lovvorn has been.
A 2012 draft pick from Oxford, Alabama, the Royals signed Lovvorn to a $275k bonus with their sixth round pick. Here is what I wrote at the time at Pine Tar Press:
Every year it seems there is that guy, who at first glance looks okay but after doing some digging, talking to a couple of coaches I end up saying to myself there is “the one” to watch. The guy for me this year is Zach Lovvorn.
Lovvorn didn’t just possess projectability as a small kid that was continuing to grow up and add to his frame, but his days of being slightly smaller were working to his advantage as his changeup continued to be his best pitch. It’s arm side fade and speed with his arm was there every start, even on the days that he couldn’t figure out which breaking ball was better: his curve with an 11-5 break, or his slider. The changeup was there to go with that fastball all day, every day on what had now become a 6’0 frame.
Zach’s stock was rising. How would the parents react to Coach Brooks leaving him in the three spot? Nowadays with prima donna kids and overbearing parents would things change? Not for Zach’s folks. His Mom works for the school and his Dad cared about winning only, not his son’s performance. In Coach Brooks words, “they were supportive of the school, the team, and down right awesome.” Perhaps that is what Lovvorn’s father learned from his JUCO playing days. With that support, the team responded, bringing home the school’s first-ever state championship in the highest class in the state despite joining that level just a few years earlier. People told Coach Brooks that he had built the best rotation in the state. Of course, he knew that already he said, until they responded no, we mean the entire state including the University of Alabama, Auburn, UAB, Samford… you name them, Oxford’s is better than them all.
As Brooks tells it “He’s not done, that chip is there, the drive to show the people of Oxford that he should’ve been the one they were paying attention to all along.”
Baseball America’s report:
Oxford High has three pitchers who could be drafted in Lovvorn and fellow righties Tucker Simpson (a 6-foot-7 Florida commit) and Jackson Stephens (an Alabama signee). Lovvorn was the team’s No. 3 starter much of the season but started rising up draft boards with a strong one-hit effort in the National High School Invitational. The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder showed an average fastball that touched 94 mph at times and had above-average life. At his best, his slider gave him an average secondary pitch, and he throws a changeup. Lovvorn’s stuff backed up as he came under more scrutiny late in the spring.
Since joining the system, Lovvorn has been on a year to year growth path taking a season at each level before getting the bump to High-A at midseason of 2015. After a full year and a half at High-A, Lovvorn moved to Double-A this year, where one couldn’t expect much more than he has to this point. Around a 4 ERA or just under 4 FIP is what the righty has consistently put up year to year. While that’s nice, it doesn’t really hop off the paper for a pitcher to watch for at that level. Especially for a pitcher that had somewhat rough 2016 season in which his teammates failed to help him a whole lot.
The Blue Rocks mustered less than a run and a half per game of support for Zach when he was on the hill, leading to an abysmal 2-15 record. Despite that record, his 3.95 ERA, 7.5 K/9 and nearly 3 to 1 walk ratio were enough for the Royals front office to name Zach the Wilmington pitcher of the year, while giving him the opening day start at Double-A. For that, you have to give the brass some credit for looking past the old school win/loss record.
“We teach our players to control what you can control, and he understood it was his job to go out and compete every day regardless of the score and regardless of the outcome.” – Ronnie Richardson Royals Director of Minor League Operations
It’s just two starts at Double-A early in the season, but I’ve been thoroughly impressed with what I’ve seen from Lovvorn in those outings. The usual repertoire of fastball, curveball, and changeup has been extremely impressive, as he’s been able to throw all three for strikes while also maneuvering the pitches within the zone and out of it, while throwing each of them at any point in the count to lefty or righty hitters.
Using the changeup to right-sided hitters isn’t something that you will see many righties do at the minor league level, but Lovvorn shows off good pacing with the pitch, and it’s downward movement allows for him to get away with it for now. With any pitch, having conviction is almost as important as execution and Lovvorn has both with his changeup through two starts. That conviction has shown with his other two pitches as well, working his fastball in the 91-93 mph range and up to 94, while climbing the ladder or spotting it on a corner. The curve is probably the best pitch he’s shown of the three, getting plenty of swings and misses with it in the zone or burying it. All three pitches look to be average, and the sum of the group make the arsenal through two starts look much better than the individual parts
ETA to the Show
This is a tough one to project because the Royals have quite a few pitchers bunched up at the Triple-A ranks that could be a tick above Lovvorn, whether it’s Eric Skoglund, Kyle Zimmer, or the above mentioned Junis. Still, Lovvorn was an unprotected 40 man roster player this last offseason and if he continues to pitch like he has this year that will not be the case or the Royals will watch another team claim him and he’ll be given an opportunity to make a major league roster in 2018. It’s just two starts but more performances like these could project Lovvorn to a back of a rotation starter profile.
Profile Photo Zach Lovvorn via Jake Rose Graphic Design @JRoseGraphics
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