This offseason, the Royals face plenty of big decisions in terms of trading some key players on the 25-man roster or attempting to re-sign free agents once on their roster. These decisions will surely lead to the front office examining their current Triple-A and Double-A rosters to decide who is worthy of major league consideration. While there is plenty of uncertainty in the field at shortstop, first base and the outfield the Royals are starting to develop more possibilities on the mound than they had in the early part of the GMDM era.
Ventura, Duffy, and Junis – For many years the mantra of the blogosphere and sports radio alike was that the GMDM front office and coaching staff couldn’t develop starting pitchers. The failures of Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Chis Dwyer, Kyle Zimmer and others was the sign that these guys were failures at that part of the game. This was holding the team back as the best success that the group could claim from ’07 to ’13 were the 128 rough starts that Luke Hochevar had put up after his #1 overall selection. That was until 2014 when Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura established themselves as competent starting pitchers. That season the Royals received 55 starts from players developed from their system with Danny Duffy finally starting to grab hold of his potential while Yordano Ventura helped pitch the squad deep into a playoff run.
Ups and downs would come the next two seasons from Duffy, but that didn’t stop the team from winning the World Series and the two Royals starters making 110 starts over the next two seasons. Heading into the ’17 season and further, the two would likely anchor the front of the rotation while under team control. That was until tragedy struck and took Yordano’s life, leaving a hole in the team’s heart and at the front of their rotation. Once again the team had to look outside the organization without a replacement ready from the minor league ranks. Injuries to the ’17 rotation forced the organization’s hand into giving an opportunity to a few young starting options with Jakob Junis and Eric Skoglund. Despite early success for Skoglund and struggles from Junis, it was the latter who had established himself as a fixture into the rotation by the end of the season.
This past season marked the fourth consecutive season that the Royals have received 40 or more of their starts from pitchers developed within their system. But now with rumors of a possible Danny Duffy trade, who will the Royals be able to turn to in their system for those starts to continue that streak?
The Experienced – Three pitchers within the system who are likely to start at Double-A or higher made their major league debuts last year in Eric Skoglund, Andres Machado, and Glenn Sparkman. All three pitchers struggled significantly in their short time in the bigs, but the Royals brass is quite confident in Skoglund, while Machado’s fastball velocity is better than major league average. In addition to those two making debuts with the Royals, current minor leaguer Glenn Sparkman made his debut with the Toronto Blue Jays prior to being returned to the organization as a Rule 5 returnee. None of the three achieved much in terms of success with the exception of Skoglund’s stellar debut, but Sparkman is now more than a year removed from Tommy John and the feel for the changeup is generally the last thing that returns for pitchers, meaning he should have his full arsenal ready to compete at the highest level. Don’t be shocked if he’s the guy who works his way from the minors into 10 or more starts this season. In addition to those three, the Royals have continued to protect Miguel Almonte with the hopes that he’s able to put his three-pitch mix into use as a starting pitcher despite his innings totals dropping since his season in Lexington.
The Next Step – While those four pitchers have all faced big league hitters in major league games, hard-throwing Josh Staumont’s experience came only versus hitters in spring training, but he did perform fairly well. That, of course, was prior to a season that went off the rails for him. Still, his fastball-curveball combination at its best ranks right there with any two pitch combo in the organization. The changeup, while lagging, is enough of a third pitch to play with the other two offerings. All things considered, some major changes would have to take place in terms of command and control for him to move into a regular rotation spot. The real possible competitor here would be lefty Foster Griffin who made major strides last season in terms of his fastball velocity, curveball improvement and overall aggressiveness with his arsenal. The left-hander appeared to be a totally different pitcher last season than the pitcher who took the mound the previous two. If he’s able to take one more step forward in terms of repeating his mechanics and/or adding another tick of velocity then he should be ready for the major league level.
If the Royals are to put up 40+ major league starts in-house again, then the likelihood of them doing it without Danny Duffy isn’t great, but I could see a scenario where Jakob Junis stacks 30+ together with a pair of the pitchers above dividing up 10-15 starts. To me, the best case scenario is a return of Duffy and Junis with 30 apiece, a mark Danny has never hit, while the Royals mix in a third guy after a Jason Hammel or Ian Kennedy trade. Not likely but for a fan of Duffy like me, I wouldn’t mind him being buried in Royals blue.